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ULRs - "paper roads"

A 'paper road' is the informal name for an Unformed Legal Road ( ULR).  

An unformed legal road (ULR) has the same legal status as a formed road. 

People use the term "paper road" to try to pretend, or fool you, that it is different from, or lesser than a 'normal' road. 

These are the closest thing we have to bridleways in New Zealand. 

When accessing Unformed Legal Roads

Deacon Rd Woodhill

Just because there is a track, that doesn't mean it is an unformed legal road. You must check that it is a road, AND the actual route of the road with your local Council or use the Walking Access Maps



An unformed road is (usually) 20m wide.. You you must stay within that boundary to be on public land. If you stray off the road you can be trespassed. 

It can be an unformed piece of a formed road.

If a gate is erected over a road, it must have:
  • a sign on it stating "Public Road", and 
  • written permission from the Council be there.  Gates MUST NOT BE LOCKED 
You can request that the gate is removed. You only need 20 local residents signatures (refer section 344(3) of LGA)


Getting Help



Councils can be (and usually are) very unhelpful with paper roads. They usually don't want to know, and won't help with disputes. 

Council's SHOULD help, but you may have to force their hand with formal complaints, and constantly be on their back.

You may even have to take them to court, although this should be rare.  

Many Council officers don't know the legislation that relates to unformed roads. Others know, but have no interest in acting (no funding, and few enforcement powers) to act.

The Walking Access Commission can, and will help, but has no ability to enforce or require landowners to abide by the law. They rely on negotiating with landowners.


Don't be put off!


You have every right to use any road (formed or unformed). This is YOUR (public) land.

Are you allowed to block the road that services your community? No? Then why should some landowners be above the law? 

Commonly land owners will complain about "Health and Safety".  As the road is NOT THEIR LAND they have no liability for health and safety, moreover it is their responsibility to ensure that they are not doing dangerous things on a road.  

A word from the Chief Ombudsman


Waitaki District Council were challenged over their inaction recently.  They asked the Chief Ombudsman (2015) Dame Beverly Watkin for advice, and received an answer that they must ensure public access, and that to obstruct a public road is a summary offence.   



Finding Unformed Legal Roads

WAMS - Walking Access Mapping System.

This is a map system specifically set up to map public access!

Within their mapping system, you can send enquiries directly to their team if you need to clarify any points.     They will check legal status or other details for free!

Some Councils also have their own GIS systems available online.

If you wish to check with your Council on whether something is or is not a current legal road, ask their road assets dept.