An unformed legal road, more commonly known as a paper road, is a parcel of land that is legally recognised as a road but has never been formed into a road.
Many paper roads cannot be identified by physically looking at the land, as it could just be a paddock, but paper roads will be evident on survey plans. Although paper roads have never been formed, the Court has found that paper roads have the same legal status as a formed road.
As paper roads hold the same status as formed roads, this means that the public has the right to drive their vehicles, walk on foot, etc. without having to ask for permission from a landowner as the paper road is owned by the local council. Council owns the paper road, but has no responsibility to form, maintain or repair paper roads. It is very important to remember that even though these roads are not formed now, they can be developed in the future. With that said, it is very important to consider the use of the land to which a paper road flows through.
Paper roads were initially created in the late 19th century to make sure that in the future, blocks of land, especially land alongside waterways, would remain accessible for public use. However, many paper roads were created over landscape which make it impossible to drive or even walk where the paper road is. This is because people did not have the surveying equipment and knowledge of the terrain like we do today.
If you own property where a paper road runs through it, you must remember that the public has a right to use that paper road. As it is difficult to find the exact location of many paper roads, landowners can fence or mark where the paper road is, in an attempt to minimalise the impact to the surrounding land. Landowners are permitted to install an unlocked gate and anyone using the road must not damage the gate and must leave the gate as they have found it; as not following these simple rules could be considered an offense under the Trespass Act 1980. Livestock must not prevent the use of a paper road and landowners must not obstruct a paper road with vegetation, trees, scrubs, buildings etc.
Landowners can apply to Council for exemptions, which could ban access to the paper road. It is also possible to ask Council to close the paper road, this means that the road will no longer have the status of a road and will not be public land. The closure and exemptions are at Council’s sole discretion.
The Walking Access Act 2008 (“Act”) at section 3 describes the purpose of the Act, which summarised, is to provide the public with free, practical walking access to the outdoors so that the public can enjoy the outdoors and to establish the New Zealand Walking Access Commission (“Commission”). The Commission has created the Walking Access Mapping System, which informs the public of the location of public places including paper roads. Further information and Access Maps can be found at http://maps.walkingaccess.govt.nz/ourmaps.