A 'paper road' is the informal name for an unformed road; a road that hasn't been 'made'.
The correct name for such roads is an unformed legal road (ULR). An unformed legal road (ULR) has exactly the same legal status as a formed road. People often use the term 'paper road' to try to convince others that they are not real, or you do not have the right to use it.
You have the legal right to pass along any road - on foot, on horseback, on bicycle or in a motor vehicle. Unformed roads may not be suitable for any or all of these modes of transport, and there is no requirement on the Council to maintain the road. Additionally, the Council can temporarily stop any of these from using the road, to save the surface of the road from damage.
When accessing unformed legal roads, you must be sure that you are on the actual course of the road, and within the boundaries (roads are 20 metres wide) at all times.
You must check the actual route of the road with your local Council, or use the Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS).
- Handheld GPS devices are the best way of ensuring you are on the road if it is not surveyed, and clearly marked.
- A track doesn't mean it is a road. Frequently farm or other tracks deviate from an unformed road, due to obstacles. You must not!
- If you stray off the road you can be trespassed.
- Either the whole length, or part of a road may be unformed.
If a gate is erected over a (paper) road:
- It must have a sign on it stating "Public Road", and
- the landowner must have written permission from the Council to have erected the road.
- it must not be locked - you still have access on the road (remember to stay on the road!)
- you can request that the gate is removed - you need 20 local residents signatures (refer section 344(3) of LGA)
Adjacent landowners MUST NOT fence across a road, nor obstruct it in any other way. If you are stopped from accessing an unformed legal road you can ask the local Council roading dept to ensure it is unobstructed.
It is a summary offence to obstruct a road.
Some Council's are REALLY unhelpful with paper roads. They usually don't want to know, and won't help with disputes - unless YOU make them.
If you find an unformed legal road is blocked - by a locked gate, or any other obstruction (it can have a swing gate - but not a locked one, and not a cattle stop) - make a formal complaint to the local Council.
Many Council officers don't know the legislation that relates to unformed roads. Ignorance is bliss. Others know, but have no mandate (or interest in) to act.
Fortunately, this is getting better, and some Councils are now proactive and others recognise that they need to bite the bullet and support the law, rather than supporting the illegal obstruction of roads.
The Walking Access Commission can help, but has no ability to enforce 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.
I have put together a document that shows the various bits of the Local Government Act (LGA) 1974 that particularly apply to getting access along a paper road.
Use the sections highlighted in this document to request access to a paper road, or to argue your case with the local Council to make them enforce access.
You can read even more in the documents below, or download them to print or keep on hand.
Am I liable for Visitors to my Farm? A publication by the Dept of Labour for Landowners, requires Adobe Reader (PDF format)
Roading Law and Unformed Roads Walking Access Commission