Early this week a fence was erected around a large chunk of Papamoa sand dunes, blocking walking paths which locals say they have enjoyed for years.
However, the paths are located on private land and the landowning development company and the Tauranga City Council say the fence has been erected for the ecological good of the dunes.
Papamoa resident Reg Butler said the fence cut straight across one of his favourite paths through the dunes, one he said he had been using for decades.
The fence stretched from the house lots right to the point the dunes drop off to the beach.
Other residents in the area said it was a popular path to the beach and was well used. One woman, who did not want to be named, said she was disappointed with the change but understood the importance of protecting the ecology of the dunes.
Coast developers Frasers Property confirmed it had owned the newly fenced 1.22ha of dune land in front of its Beaches precinct since 2004.
Development manager Kranish Reddy said the ownership and stewardship of the dunes would eventually be passed on to Beaches residents. The owners of each of the 23 lots in the precinct will each own an equal share of the land.
He said Frasers was building a private raised boardwalk through the dune exclusively for Beaches residents.
The boardwalk would discourage ad hoc pedestrian movement throughout the "fragile dune ecosystem" and Frasers Property would replant and re-establish any area of the dune disturbed during the construction, Mr Reddy said.
"As a condition of our consent for works within the dune, Tauranga City Council has required the private dune area to be fenced off to ensure pedestrian access is discouraged.
"This to ensure that the natural landscape and character of the dune is preserved. Again this is a Tauranga City Council requirement, and Frasers Property agrees with the importance of preserving the dunes," he said.
The resource consent decision giving the council's approval for the boardwalk included conditions for the "informal" paths through the dunes in the conservation zone be fenced off and planted out. All bare sand that people might be tempted to use to make a new path also had to be planted.
"The consent holder shall install and maintain temporary fencing, of a waratah and wire type (or similar), around the Conservation Zone to protect the area from further ad hoc pedestrian use for a period of two years, to allow the regeneration planting to establish on site."
The council's acting manager of environmental planning, Shanan Miles, said the temporary fence had been recommended in an ecological report to allow dune plants to regenerate.
"The dunes contained within this lot are located on private property," he said.
"Regardless, people shouldn't be walking around on the dunes where there aren't clear paths - they are very sensitive to damage and foot traffic contributes to erosion."
"[The] council is seeking to eliminate informal trails through the dunes where possible, because of their sensitivity to damage.
"We're working through the process of establishing several boardwalks for this reason."