Hobson's legacy? Riparian Rights and the Queen's Chain

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 The terms “Riparian Rights” and “The Queens Chain” are often referred to in marketing material and the media. However, the meaning of these terms, and the rights to which they refer, can be a source of confusion.

In response to the growing number of enquiries regarding these terms from our clients and from industry professionals, including real estate agents, we thought an article which deals with this area would be useful.

When Governor Hobson was surveying New Zealand he had strict instructions from Queen Victoria to set aside strips of land to provide particular sites for “roads, quays, recreation and amusement and for promoting health”. This led to early surveyors reserving land (but not all land) for these purposes alongside waterways, including rivers, lakes and sea boundaries.

However, it was not until 1892 that the Crown passed legislation requiring a strip of land (made up of a chain) to be reserved adjoining the high water mark for any Crown sales made after that date.

The term “chain” refers to an early surveyor’s tool called a chain which was made up 100 links (being 66 feet or 20 metres).

Currently, the law generally provides that where any subdivision divides land into lots under 4 acres the council can require an esplanade reserve (a 20 metre Queen’s chain strip) as part of the resource consent for any land adjoining rivers, lakes and beaches.

This means that the Queen’s chain now refers to the marginal strips and esplanade reserves, which normally are 20 metres wide, adjoining many lakes, rivers and the foreshore.

There are still however, a large amount of land ownership whereby there is no reserve or Queen’s chain and the land ownership continues right down to the water. It is these types of land ownership which can be said to contain riparian rights.

This usually relates to the high tide mark, but some titles may extend to the low water mark, particularly if the land is Maori land.

Riparian rights allow unimpeded access to that mark (whether high or low tide mark), however those rights are limited by any council bylaws which would apply and also the Resource Management Act. For example, the building of a jetty or small wharf on privately owned land which extends out into the water will require council consent regardless of whether or not riparian rights exist.

If you have any questions about riparian rights, the Queen's chain or reserve esplanades effecting your land, or land you are looking at purchasing, please contact 
experienced property lawyer Carolyn Ranson by phone on 09 837 6891 or email carolyn.ranson@smithpartners.co.nz