Wairarapa paper road row drags on

By Don Farmer don.farmer@age.co.nz -
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A blocked forestry road in Ngaumu Forest in an image supplied to the Times-Age by a group seeking better access. PHOTO/FILE
A blocked forestry road in Ngaumu Forest in an image supplied to the Times-Age by a group seeking better access. PHOTO/FILE

An access dispute involving a paper road which traverses Ngaumu Forest in rural Masterton is unlikely to be settled any time soon.

Masterton District Council last week agreed not to take any action to change the circumstances surrounding Fernglen Rd, located 40km from the town, off Ngahape Rd and which cuts through Juken New Zealand (JNL) forests on land leased from the Crown.

This was despite a presentation made to councillors by a landowner in the area, Hamish Wilson, who was speaking on behalf of a group of people banded together to seek legal access for anyone wanting to go into the area, by whatever means of transport.

Fernglen Rd (also known as Lennies Rd) is unformed and, while unformed paper roads have the same legal status as other legal roads, the council has no obligation to form, repair or maintain paper roads.

The Fernglen Rd situation is somewhat muddied by the fact JNL has formed its own access road through the forest which coincides with the paper road in part but which is mostly on land leased to the forestry company.

The public right to use Fernglen Rd does not extend to using sections of the formed road which is on JNL land.

Mr Wilson told the Times-Age the group he belonged to wanted to ensure there were several ways out of the area beyond the Brancepeth Bridge should an emergency arise.

"Once you are over the Brancepeth Bridge you are effectively locked out," he said.

Mr Wilson said being locked out was a major concern especially if a major disaster hit in which people were injured.

Matters were made worse by the fact there is no cellphone coverage in many areas.

He said there had been a "laughable offer" of help from the council in conjunction with JNL.

"They have said they will send someone to escort us out by the Whareama route," Mr Wilson said.

Regarding the paper road not always following the formed road, Mr Wilson said there was a general principle that applied to surveyed boundaries.

"They are described in titles as being more or less."

The JNL formed road (light brown line) differs from the unformed paper road (yellow highlighted) in many parts. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
The JNL formed road (light brown line) differs from the unformed paper road (yellow highlighted) in many parts. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Those who are seeking the road to allow unimpeded access to everyone, by whatever method of transport, believe JNL have caused the paper road to be blocked by debris on more than one occasion.

They believe opening up access to all would allow for far more recreational opportunities including an "excellent cycling route".

JNL's forest manager Sean McBride said the key issue was a health and safety one.

"We have a legislative duty of care to our forestry workers and visitors on the land," he said.

Mr McBride said up to 100 workers can be in the area at any given time and, for that reason, access to the company's formed road could not be opened to everyone.

The paper road, he said, was "undrivable" for vehicles in any event.

Mr McBride said, last November, the company had met with district council staff and had given them an assurance that in the case of emergencies all its facilities would immediately become available to help anyone in need.

He said JNL had issued permits to rock and mineral clubs and some other recreational users to visit on their leased land. Mr McBride said there had been no demand from cyclists to use the road.

Until recently there had been a locked forestry gate across the entrance to Fernglen Rd but as it was illegal to block a paper road the council had requested JNL to remove the gate.

This had been done and the company had constructed another gate elsewhere to allow its staff access.

While this was being done, spoil and trees had been dumped on the paper road but this also was removed at the council's request.

Mr McBride said there had been no deliberate attempt to shut out people walking on the legitimate paper road.

At last week's council meeting, chief executive Pim Borren said the Fernglen Rd dispute had been going on for some time and council had sought legal opinions.

"From those, it is clear paper roads are owned by the council and we have no choice but to allow public access to them but where the formed road veers away from the paper road then JNL does not have to allow access," Mr Borren said.

"Our view would be that it would be risky to start maintaining a road we have not formed and the council has no obligation to form or maintain a paper road."

Councillor Jonathan Hooker said the area was a " recognised working forest with health and safety implications".

" I fully understand why JNL would be very reluctant to allow access to every Tom, Dick and Harry," Mr Hooker said.

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