Developing Esplanade Provisions for RMA Plans


Esplanade reserves and strips and access strips are just one set of a range of tools available to territorial authorities or land owners to provide for the conservation of, or public access to, water bodies. Unlike non-regulatory methods, these can be automatically triggered by district plan provisions at the time of subdivision or land use consent.

However, a number of factors need to be examined when determining the strategic approach for esplanade areas including the form of protection and level of management. Important factors are:

  • the nature of resources (eg, extent of coastline or land abutting waterways)
  • the nature of land uses (eg, rural/urban/natural habitats/features and their proportions within the district)
  • the possibility of developing an integrated network of access points to water bodies through the use of esplanade reserves and strips.

When defining overall objectives, the following matters should be considered:

  • the physical characteristics of waterways and coastal areas within the region or district, their local or regional significance and the values that need protection
  • the extent and location of existing reserves along waterways and the coast
  • the effectiveness of existing esplanade provisions
  • the benefits (environmental, social and cultural) of appropriately managed esplanade areas, how they contribute to the integrated management of natural and physical resources in the region or district, and how such areas contribute to providing for the relationship between local iwi and their ancestral lands, wahi tapu and other taonga
  • the demand for, and the desirability of, maintenance or enhancement of conservation and natural-character values and access and/or recreational opportunities along waterways in the region or district.

Once the overall objectives have been defined, the options for managing riparian and coastal margins need to be assessed.

The key matters that should be considered are:

  • the options available for creating esplanade areas
  • the relative advantages and disadvantages of esplanade reserves compared to esplanade strips and/or access strips
  • whether policies and/or rules should be applied generally to all water bodies, or targeted to specific categories of water body or individual water bodies
  • whether there are particular circumstances which apply (such as completing a public access link)
  • situations where the cost of esplanade reserve or strip creation would outweigh any benefits (taking into account benefits in the longer term).

The effectiveness of esplanade provisions is largely dependent on how well they reflect the specific circumstances in a district and how consistently they are implemented. Success will be achieved by ensuring a high level of community input to determine district-wide riparian values, followed by prioritising and integrating esplanade provisions into wider district strategies.

Some best practice tips for developing district plan provisions are:

  • include well developed objectives and policies, based on a thorough consideration of the requirements for access and riparian management in the district
  • use plain, simple language to achieve clarity.
  • locate provisions within a clearly defined section in the plan to ensure ease of location
  • make esplanade provisions an element of the district plan policies on riparian and coastal management: include policies on public access, recreation and protection of conservation values important to the district, with appropriate cross references and linkages
  • cooperate and consult with the public and land owners to increase their awareness of what the council is trying to achieve, as well as improving the participatory process.
  • identify water bodies where esplanade and access strip provisions apply and specify their location in a schedule or on a plan.
  • provide well developed assessment criteria to enable other water bodies not listed in a schedule or on a plan to be considered in future
  • include clear criteria for reduction or waiver of esplanade provisions
  • clarify whether strips or reserves are preferred for each identified water body (or part water body) or develop criteria for determining appropriateness on a case-by-case basis
  • include a draft of management conditions for esplanade strip easement documentation. Also see form 31 examples in the advantages/disadvantages table
  • rely on the definitions in the RMA eg, the definition of 'bed', so that there can be no misunderstanding as to what is meant
  • include non-regulatory methods to achieve riparian management as part of the overall package - for example, develop a separate esplanade policy document or link to the Long Term Plan
  • use concept plans/management plans for areas where rapid future growth or infill is likely to occur. These will alert owners and developers of proposals for walkways and linkages and can encourage better integration between areas
  • provide rules in district plans (eg, in Open Space or Conservation Areas or Zones) to control bulk and location, removal of buildings and setbacks along with other relevant performance measures to manage activities in esplanade areas.

In addition to esplanade reserves, strips and access strips, the following regulatory tools are also available to use:

  • Marginal strips - areas of Crown land that adjoin the sea, lakes or rivers and are reserved from disposal by the Crown. They are created and managed under the Conservation Act 1987 and are held for conservation purposes. They are also held to enable public access and recreational use of the strips and adjacent water bodies. Management of marginal strips is usually the responsibility of the Department of Conservation but can be transferred to local authorities or adjoining owners where appropriate.
  • Reserves - can also be created under the Reserves Act 1977. These may be vested in a council as all or part of a reserve contribution at the time of subdivision or created by the council or the Crown from land purchased from private land owners. In such cases the land becomes reserve upon resolution of council to that effect or by gazette notice. A reserve can include water bodies and/or land adjoining the margins of water bodies. Reserves can be used for conservation purposes as well as a wide range of other values.
  • Regional plans - regional water resource plans, for example, provide for the management of waterways and other water resources in a region.
  • Designation - used to identify high-priority conservation/amenity areas for public acquisition.
  • The Walking Access Act (2008) provides for the establishment of walkways over public and private land. The New Zealand Walking Access Commission must obtain written consent from the relevant administering authority in order to declare a walkway over public land, or negotiate easements or leases with landowners of private land.


A number of the following non-regulatory mechanisms can be used either as an alternative to, or in combination with, regulatory approaches to achieve the purposes of the RMA and effective riparian management best suited to a district's characteristics:

  • public education
  • provision of information on alternative non-regulatory methods such as vegetation removal, riparian planting and retirement of particular areas
  • identifying and linking regulatory methods with strategic documents including the Long Term Plan
  • the use of management and maintenance plans for esplanade areas which can be linked with regional policies and rules
  • establishing community care groups to help manage and restore environments
  • conservation covenants - these are legal agreements between a land holder and a covenanting agency to protect an area's natural values (eg, fencing or pest control). A covenant can be entered into between a land holder and the Department of Conservation, Queen Elizabeth II National Trust or a local authority. The land holder retains ownership but because the covenant is registered against the title, it is binding on future owners. A covenant may also provide for public access, which can be limited to certain times or circumstances.
  • Coastal open space strategies or open space strategies - prepared by regional or district councils to provide a vision, outcomes and identified actions for the provision of open space
  • industry accords – the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord, for example, is a set of national good management practice benchmarks aimed at lifting environmental performance on dairy farms. It has been agreed between DairyNZ and dairy companies, with the support of, and input from a wide range of industry stakeholders including Federated Farmers .This is a broad and comprehensive pledge that includes commitments to targeted riparian planting plans, effluent management, comprehensive standards for new dairy farms and measures to improve the efficiency of water and nutrient use on farms.
  • joint management agreements (eg, enabling access to gather kaimoana).

Circumstances which influence the type of esplanade area provision

The geography of a district can influence the nature of the esplanade provisions included in a district plan.

  • Districts with large areas of rural land, natural habitats or natural features tend to make more use of esplanade and access strips instead of esplanade reserves. As these areas are often relatively inaccessible, many councils are inclined to defer the maintenance and control of such areas to land owners.
  • Rural land owners are often more comfortable with the concept of strips than reserves, as it provides them with more direct control over how these areas are used and managed.
  • Urban councils are more likely to use esplanade reserves as they usually want to exercise greater control over maintenance and access.
  • The size of the rating base will determine the extent of resources available to develop, administer and manage any reserves (eg, many districts in the South Island encompass large areas, but have a relatively low rating base - this can limit the amount of resource available to manage these areas).