21 Jun 2020

Nelson reserve closures an inflammatory issue

4:34 pm on 21 June 2020

Nelson City Council's decisions to repeatedly close public reserves in times of high fire risk are under fire.

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Brook Sanctuary in Nelson was closed in late summer due to high fire risk. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Federated Mountain Clubs is challenging Nelson City Council's decision to close reserves when fire risks increase.

Hot, dry weather in late summer this year resulted in the closure of many walking and mountain biking tracks.

Public walkways were also closed the previous summer during the Tasman wildfires.

Federated Mountain Clubs representative Patrick Holland told a recent council meeting that council reserves were being closed unnecessarily.

He said public reserves and parks played a vital role in Nelson's recreation, tourism and conservation, and "lengthy closures in summer" had been too drastic.

"These closures are draconian compared to the management of parks in fire-prone regions of Australian and the USA," Holland said.

Forest fire over Tasman on approach to Nelson from the flight deck of an Air New Zealand flight.

A forest fire over Tasman last year. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Although recent major forest fires in these countries did take lives, "few were walkers or hikers", he said.

"There are a lot of other risks we're exposed to - yes, and we need good information about the hazards and risks, but there is no real need for the council to close off reserves.

"It's not clear how decisions are made. I had friends regularly breaking the rules because they're not clear."

Nelson Deputy Mayor Judene Edgar said the council closed reserves in consultation with Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

"Human safety has to be a key consideration," she said.

Holland said it made sense for Fire and Emergency to be the major decision-maker when there were fires.

The clubs, which had 25,000 members, supported road closures when there were forest fires, and backed partial closures to vehicles during times of high fire hazard risk.

"However we do not support the current policy of completely closing public reserves in dry periods, due to perceived risk to people."

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