Access issues stall cycleways

By David Fisher

John Key on a cycle at Ohakune at the opening of the cycle trail. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
John Key on a cycle at Ohakune at the opening of the cycle trail. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

John Key's cycle trail has taxpayer money lined up to buy access to private land in a bid to keep the plan on track.

Plans for four of the seven cycle trails cross private land and have left those building the tracks negotiating access rights with land owners.

In one case, discussions have included the option of land owners getting paid for access - even though the step has been banned under agreements to have the trails built.

Also up for discussion are timing of access rights, effectively allowing land owners to dictate when cyclists would be allowed to travel the route.

The cycle trail was launched after the Prime Minister talked up the idea following last year's job summit as a way of creating jobs and lifting New Zealand out of the recession.

The Ministry of Tourism was given an extra $50 million to fund a series of "Great Rides" over three years. Work on the trail was fast-tracked with the selection of seven trails as Quick Start projects.

But inquiries by the Herald on Sunday have found four of those approved Quick Start tracks need private landowner permission.

While work is under way on some parts of the track, those running the projects are in negotiations with landowners to find a legal path for the remainder of the route.

Department of Conservation staff working on the central North Island trail have recently started talking to a forestry block owner who controlled a piece of land across the planned exit for the trail.

Trail project leader Erana Stevens said negotiations included buying the land needed for the trail - a 2km-long path about 2m wide - and discussing access rights.

Conditions being discussed included the hours that the trail would be open and used by cyclists, she said. The trail was being built with DoC money, half of which would be reimbursed by the Ministry of Tourism on completion, she said.

In Northland, the path of the Hokianga to Russell trail is unclear after Okaihau - about 20km from its intended end point at Horeke. Local community board chairwoman Tracy Dalton said negotiations had begun with private landowners to find a route to the Hokianga Harbour.

Discussions were also under way on the Hauraki Plains trail, although a Thames Coromandel District Council boss said there were few areas where the planned trail crossed private land. Cavers said those areas where it did need landowners' permission to continue had a public access alternative.

The Ministry of Tourism committed $28.7 million of funding to 13 trails. The funding was promised after $690,000 of taxpayer money was spent on detailed "feasibility studies" which plotted out the routes the trails would take.

Tourism Ministry staff were unable to come up with a figure for the number of jobs created by the project or numbers to show how many jobs were expected from completed projects.

The Herald on Sunday was able to identify about 70 new jobs at existing projects, with the greatest number from the trail in Northland. Those jobs receive taxpayer subsidies through the Community Max scheme.

Tourism Ministry spokeswoman John Dunn said that farmers and other land owners were "doing us a huge favour" by giving access.

Labour tourism spokesman and MP Kelvin Davis said there was a positive feeling about the trail in Northland where he is from. "But it certainly hasn't been the unemployment-beater it was meant to be."

david.fisher@hos.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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