Sunday, June 16, 2024

Council slams brakes on Muriwai Beach vehicles

Auckland Council has this week committed to manage the impact from vehicles on significant ecosystems bordering Muriwai Regional Park with ongoing summer restrictions.

The council’s Planning, Environment and Parks Committee has approved measures to ban motorised vehicles from Te Oneone Rangatira / Muriwai Beach during high-risk and peak summer periods for the next three years.

These measures include closing the beach to vehicles during Guy Fawkes for the first time this year and at the height of summer holidays.

Planning, Environment and Parks Committee Deputy Chair, Councillor Angela Dalton says the decision provides a consistent approach to address ongoing safety concerns at Muriwai Beach and continue our efforts to protect ecology in the regional park.

“This reaffirms that we are serious about looking after Muriwai Beach. Many residents in the area have been through significant hardship this year and we acknowledge the community is still in recovery,” she said.

“Every summer, vehicles on Muriwai Beach create safety issues and concern around driver behaviour. We need to ensure a responsible pathway is chosen to manage this risk and address some of the long-term damage associated with driving on the beach.

“Closing the beach to vehicles for short periods is a great compromise, given that many people would like us to go much further with restrictions.”

 As a result of the committee decision, Muriwai Beach will be closed to vehicles during the following dates – reopening subject to a fire risk assessment by Fire and Emergency New Zealand:

  • 29 December 2023 to 15 January 2024
  • 31 December 2024 to 13 January 2025
  • 31 December 2025 to 12 January 2026

Vehicle access to the beach will also be closed during Guy Fawkes for the next three years, Council said in a statement.

This will cover the date fireworks go on sale until the Monday after Guy Fawkes Day (2-6 November 2023), to mitigate fire risk to the area, it said.

Physical barriers are set to be installed to manage the closures and signage will go up prior to the restrictions.

Auckland Council’s Regional Parks Principal Specialist, Stephen Bell says a high volume of vehicles have been reported on the beach after the Coast Road access point re-opened on 4 September.

“In the past seven months, the beach and its surrounding environment has started to recover, with dunes revegetating and protected seals, kororā / little penguin and other shorebirds returning to the area,” says Mr Bell.   

“Now that everyone has access again, we’re keen to see that the ecological gains made are not jeopardised by non-permitted activities in the area.

“Under the current bylaw, moto-x /trail bikes, quad bikes and any other off-road vehicles without a current warrant of fitness or registration cannot be driven on  the beach. Unpermitted vehicle activity is having a major impact on some of our most threatened species and damaging the sand dunes. We’ve already had reports of serious harm caused to wildlife in the area.

“People need to understand how fragile this environment is and to be aware of how they impact on their surroundings, especially other visitors, shorebirds and animals on the beach.

“Camping in the dunes is not permitted and fires present a significant risk to the environment and adjacent forest,” Mr Bell added.

Fire and Emergency supports restrictions, given the heightened fire risk during summer to 12,500 hectares of pine forest that runs alongside isolated stretches of the beach.

Rodney Local Board Chair, Brent Bailey says Muriwai Beach provides a unique opportunity for everyone to work together to ensure a better outcome.

“A wide range of recreational users are brought together on the beach every summer – from dog walkers to families picnicking, surfers, fishers and 4WD vehicle users,” he said.

“It’s important to ensure we are proactively managing risks so everyone knows what to expect and can plan ahead to make the most of their visit. I hope these new measures will raise awareness and make this beach being a safer, more protected environment we can all continue to enjoy.”

The committee’s three-year management approach follows a range of precautions the Council has taken for the past three summers to limit vehicle activity on the beach during peak times, including seasonal closures for vehicles, signage, barriers, education and a permit system.

Further measures are being considered for the future, including additional vehicle restrictions and charging for permits.

The Council and Auckland Transport are also reviewing traffic-related bylaws and may consider fines for non-permitted vehicles on beaches.

The Council says its regional parks team has worked closely with iwi and a community advisory group to gather feedback on vehicle management and driver behaviour at Muriwai leading up to this week’s decision.

Throughout summer, Auckland Council will monitor the impact of vehicles on Muriwai Beach, along with other agencies including Police, Auckland Transport, and Fire and Emergency.

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