Coincidentally, as controversy swirls around vehicle access to Waimārama Beach, Forest & Bird has released a national study looking at the status of councils’ regulation of beach access in relation to vehicles and protection of coastal species and wildlife.

Every council was rated based on response to three questions about the existence (or not) of bylaws protecting beaches, relevant public information and monitoring /enforcement.

Hawke’s Bay’s councils all failed. On a scale where the highest ranked council (Dunedin) scored a 12 rating, HDC scored 5 (largely because of information about beach protection on their website), CHBDC scored 4, NCC scored 2 and Wairoa 0.

Only 11 of 53 councils received the higher scores of 7-12, which put them in the category of ‘protected’ or ‘good protection’.

The regulatory authorities are a bit dispersed. 

The NZ Coastal Policy Statement provides for controlling the use of vehicles (excluding emergency services vehicles), on beaches, foreshore, seabed, and adjacent public land, for the purpose of preventing damage of geological processes, ecological systems and indigenous flora and fauna. This can affect Regional Policy Statements (the responsibility of regional authorities), but not bylaws, which are under different regimes.

And because beaches are legally considered roads, the Land Transport Act provides that:

Road controlling authorities (i.e. our local councils) may make certain bylaws that it thinks fit for various purposes including these:

  • prohibiting or restricting the use of vehicles on beaches; 
  • restricting the use of motor vehicles on unformed legal roads for the purposes of protecting the environment, the road and adjoining land, and the safety of road users.

To arrive at its grades, Forest & Bird asked city and district councils these questions (with follow-up detail):

  1. Do you have any rules, regulations or bylaws restricting or prohibiting the use of vehicles on beaches in your territory?
  2. Do you have any public information and/or guidance on your council website in regards to vehicles on beaches?
  3. If you do have rules, regulations or a bylaw restricting or prohibiting the use of vehicles on beaches in your territory: Do you attribute any funding/resource to it? Do you have any staff whose job (or part of their job) is to enforce the regulations?

The regulations varied dramatically throughout the country and included: 

  • No regulation/rules (complete reliance on the NZ Police and DOC to enforce the weak national legislation); 
  • Speed limits on beaches (usually 30km per hour); 
  • Prohibition from driving on dunes and/or above high tide line; 
  • Beaches closed to vehicles over the summer/nesting period; 
  • Some beaches where vehicles are prohibited, some where they are allowed; 
  • Parts of beaches where vehicles are prohibited (e.g. river mouths/estuaries); 
  • Provision to prohibit or restrict vehicles from certain beaches if monitoring shows effects in future, and/or by Council resolution; 
  • Full prohibition to vehicles. 

Forest & Bird recommend that councils: 

  1. Work together to improve coastal protections for vulnerable species from vehicles on beaches. An arbitrary council boundary line should not result in stark differences in beach/coastal protections, and neighbouring councils should both be protecting their coasts consistently. 
  2. Use the Land Transport Act (specifically 22AB(1)(f)&(g)) to restrict the use of motor vehicles on unformed legal roads (beaches) for the purpose of protecting the environment, instead of relying on provisions in the LGA which does not allow bylaw creation for environmental reasons. 
  3. Put more resource (dedicated staff and budget) into compliance and enforcement of regulations. 
  4. Provide better information to the public about driving on beaches, such as dedicated webpages on council websites and clear and adequate signage at beach entry points. 
  5. Prioritise implementation of the NPSIB to provide information to their communities about highly mobile fauna and their habitats, as well as techniques for managing adverse effects on any highly mobile fauna and their habitats in their regions and districts. 
  6. Improve cooperation across and between councils, the Department of Conservation and the NZ Police to enforce local regulation (bylaws) and national legislation (LTA, MMPR). 

Here is the full report.


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