Crown roads sell-off to block angler access

The NSW Council of Freshwater Anglers (CFA) issued disturbing news this week of the O’Farrell Government’s plans to accelerate the sale and closure of Crown roads in NSW (sometimes known as paper roads) which provide access to many recreational fishing locations.

The CFA says to do this the government is changing some of the processes which publicise such sales and allow proper consultation with stakeholders.

Below you’ll find detailed information on this issue as well as how you can have your say,  provided by the CFA:

What are ‘Crown roads’?
Crown roads (also known as ‘paper roads’) are unformed public roads owned by the Crown that are bounded by private freehold land, mainly farms, and provide anglers and other users with legal access to waterways. These Crown roads are often just tracks, sometimes not in use and not even visible. Even if they are visible they are sometimes blocked by fences and illegal ‘no trespass’ signs. It can be difficult to know where they are unless you check maps at your local Crown Lands office.

Are there Crown roads in your area?
Yes, definitely. In NSW there are tens of thousands of Crown roads that criss-cross the countryside, providing access to waterways, public reserves and areas of Crown land. You may already be using these Crown roads to access your favourite fishing spots. There are probably numerous other Crown roads that you could also be legally using if you only knew where they are.

The government is converting Crown roads to ‘freehold’, i.e. private ownership
Many of these old Crown roads are not used by public vehicles these days, so some adjoining landowners like to legally make them part of their properties. This also suits the NSW government, which can sell these Crown roads to a landholder and receive the money. However a significant number of these Crown roads provide freshwater anglers with convenient and legal access to waterways. These Crown roads belong to the people of NSW, once they are sold and converted to freehold they are lost to the public forever…there is no way to reverse the process. There is also no way to appeal this process if the government decides to sell the Crown road. The value of these Crown roads to the people of NSW now and in the future greatly exceeds the value that the government will receive from their sale.

The NSW government wants to speed up the process
Conversion of Crown roads to freehold is not a new process—it has always been possible—and at any time there have always been Crown roads that were being processed for sale. However on 30 August 2012 Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional Infrastructure and Services Andrew Stoner announced that he had directed Crown Lands (part of the NSW Department of Primary Industries) to accelerate the processing in order to clear a backlog of applications. This will be achieved by reducing timeframes for consultation and objections, processing applications in batches rather than one at a time and employing a large team of people to process the applications.

In the past, the process has required that advertisements be placed in local newspapers for interested parties to be made aware of applications for conversions in their district. The process originally included a 28 day objection period. 28 days is barely enough time to discover, research and comment on a proposed closure but it’s going to get worse…according to the Minister’s 30 August media release the government will be “reducing timeframes for consultation and objections”.

Advertising in just local newspapers, with a shortened period for objections, is not a satisfactory way of publicising these closures and consulting with the public—the real owners of the Crown land. The advertisements do not indicate what land or waterways adjoin the Crown roads, so the public really has no idea if the Crown road might provide access to a recreational fishing location. The current method of advertising does not provide adequate information for the general public to identify the location properly and make an informed comment on the closure. Understanding the exact location of many of these Crown roads requires access to specialised property databases that are not available to the general public.

The problem is worse for city-based anglers … if they do not live in the districts in which the closures will be advertised, they have little chance of even being aware a Crown road closure has been applied for.

The Minister claims there was consultation with recreational anglers
In a media release on 18 October 2012 Andrew Stoner claimed that “Crown Lands met recently with representatives from the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the Angler Access Project and NSW Fisheries to discuss this very issue.”

This statement is misleading. There was no public consultation before the decision was announced. After reading the Minister’s original announcement the Recreational Fishing Alliance requested an opportunity to discuss the proposal and a meeting did take place between two mid-ranking officers from Crown Lands, a representative from the RFA and a representative from the NSW Angler Access Project on 19 September 2012 to discuss a variety of access issues. But in that meeting there was no satisfactory consultation on this particular matter and it was clear that requests for better information and retention of original objection periods would not be met. The Minister did not attend the meeting. No other fishing groups were consulted either by Crown Lands or the Minister.

In the same media release, the Minister said “Importantly, road closure applications that may potentially affect fishing access are referred to NSW Fisheries for consultation regarding access requirements…..It is the role of NSW Fisheries to liaise and advise local fishing groups that might be affected by a road closure application.”

That is an entirely unacceptable situation. NSW Fisheries has just one person based at Albury to monitor thousands of such applications for the entire state. On the other hand, Crown Lands has recently employed over 60 extra staff to speed up handling of road closure applications in their own office. No extra resources have been given to NSW Fisheries to handle the avalanche of applications that will need monitoring.

This is not a dispute with farmers
We understand why many farmers want to consolidate these old Crown roads into their freehold property. It may be more convenient, may have security and management advantages and can add to the value of their properties. In many cases conversion of these Crown roads into freehold will not cause problems for anglers or any other users. But the Crown roads that provide important access for anglers and other waterway users are currently owned by the public and should stay that way. All we want is that the process of application, consideration and conversion to be open, transparent, well publicised and not rushed, so that anglers have the opportunity to become aware of possible road closures and object if necessary to preserve important public access.

When is this all going to happen?
We understand that the NSW Government has already started employing extra staff for this process and that they will start working on actual conversions after a training period, probably around February or March 2013.

You need to complain…NOW!
The Minister has presented these changes to the public as a fait accompli, with little publicity, discussion or consultation.

You need to write or email as soon as possible to your local Member of Parliament and ask for the following:
That all applications for sale of Crown roads to freehold be publicised in a central website so they can be easily monitored and searched by the public. That the website provide online searching of all location details, map references, Google map links, status of any adjoining land and allow for online comment and, if appropriate, objection. That extra staff be provided to NSW Fisheries to cope with the process of monitoring the applications and advising angling groups. That your local Member for Parliament confirm to you his support for retention of publicly owned Crown roads that provide important access for the recreational anglers of NSW.

Writing to your Member of Parliament
You can get your local Member of Parliament’s postal and email address at this link.

You should email your request, or post a letter. Your message does not need to be long, and it should be respectful and to-the-point. You should ask for a reply.

You should make the same request to:

The Hon. Andrew Stoner, MP
Deputy Premier, Minister for Trade and Investment, and Minister for Regional Infrastructure and Services
Level 30 Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place

The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP
Premier of NSW
GPO Box 5341

The Hon. Katrina Hodgkinson, MP
Minister for Primary Industries
Level 30 Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place

You should also write to the following, requesting their support:

The Hon. Steve Whan, MLC
Shadow Minister for Primary Industries
Parliament House
Macquarie Street
Sydney NSW 2000

The Hon. Robert Brown, MLC
Shooters and Fishers Party
Parliament House
Macquarie Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Write to your local newspaper
Make the same points as outlined above and also explain that the problem doesn’t just affect anglers…it will affect other people who want to access public waterways for kayaking, swimming, picnicking and many other benign outdoor activities.

Assisting the Access Officer
Because of the pressure on the access officer that is working on access issues, any individuals or clubs receiving an email (whether direct or forwarded) from Alistair McBurnie (NSW DPI) relating to an application to purchase a Crown road should act promptly and provide as much information as possible … try to get relevant information (potential for access, actual use for access, problems with landholder, (illegal fencing, ‘keep out’ signage etc) back to the access officer as a matter of urgency.

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