Editorial: Paper road fight storm in a teacup?

JONATHON HOWE
Last updated 12:00 01/02/2013

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OPINION: When you look at the objections raised by residents opposed to the potential closure of a paper road in the Pohangina Valley, it's hard to actually understand why they are so upset.

The unformed portion of Opawe Rd, which crosses land owned by Maungatau Farm owner Richard Christensen, is used by trampers and hunters to access the west-to-east crossing of the Ruahine Forest Park.

The Manawatu District Council has proposed to close the road and create a new road that will allow access to park, by way of a land swap with Mr Christensen.

But this proposal has raised the ire of residents and outdoor groups, who see usage of the public paper road as a democratic right.

The plan is going through the submissions process at the moment but Rongotea man Neville Parrott is so incensed, he has threatened to take the council to the Environment Court should the road be closed.

Trampers and hunters should be used to traversing rough terrain to access their destinations, so their opposition to the closure is more plausibly motivated by ideological views than logistical concerns.

No doubt many of the concerned residents have used the paper road to access the bush for years, making the possibility of change being forced upon them unappealing.

There have also been allegations made about Mr Christensen being obstructive towards members of the public who use the road. While he admits to having trouble with some of the people who move from the path to his property, Mr Christensen said any incidents were nothing serious.

This friction between the landowner and the public might be at the heart of the stoush.

It is currently still a public road, so people are well within their rights to use it. Paper roads are common in New Zealand's rural areas where they are the legacy of early district planners keen to ensure future accessibility. Disputes of this nature can arise when landowners are not fully aware of the rules and regulations pertaining to the roads.

Mr Christensen claims it was a "surprise" to discover the paper road was on his land when he bought it seven years ago. So it must have come as more of a surprise when he started seeing hunters and trampers using it at their leisure. But despite what they might feel about Mr Christensen's attitude, the people opposed to the closure will still have access to the Ruahine Forest Park even if the paper road is closed.

Citizens making a stand about their rights is typically an admirable endeavour. But even if they were to lose this fight, they would be only slightly inconvenienced, which makes you wonder if it is all just a storm in a tea cup.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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