Coronavirus: Police step in after community roadblocks unlawfully close off access to Northland beaches

Police have been forced to take action after a flurry of fresh complaints about unlawful community roadblocks in Northland.

The complaints centre around rural beach access roads in isolated communities in the Far North, where residents have been putting roadblocks in place to stop people from accessing the beach.

While the roadblocks had a legitimate function during the alert level 4 lockdown - helping uphold the rules during a period in which all non-essential travel was banned - at alert level 3, which came into force on Tuesday, Kiwis are permitted to drive to their closest beach.

However it appears the roadblocks in many areas are still in place, and police have fielded a handful of complaints from frustrated Far North residents who, eager to see the ocean for the first time in a month, discovered that access to their favourite beach was still closed off.

"Often these access ways are dirt roads with a small number of families living there, and during alert level 4 it was appropriate for these roads to be closed to the public," Sue Schwalger, Assistant Commissioner - Districts, told Newshub.

"Under the restrictions of alert level 3, we continue to work with those isolated and small communities, to help educate them about what alert level 3 means in terms of their safety and the need to ensure the public have access to public locations including beaches."

The beach access issue is the latest in a litany of problems at community roadblocks in Northland which have caused current and former MPs to call for them to be banned.

Their calls followed a swathe of reports of Kiwis feeling unsafe and intimidated by roadblock operators, who have been imposing alert level 4 lockdown rules despite having no authority to do so.

Over the last month, a man in his 70s was reportedly held at a roadblock by a gang member during a drive to buy some milk, while a Kaikohe couple claimed they were "harassed and illegally detained" at a Te Tai Tokerau roadblock.

Police last week clarified its rules on community COVID-19 roadblocks after the furore surrounding these and other incidents.

The clarification means checkpoints must now have a police presence and must not restrict access for people moving through for legitimate purposes - which, under alert level 3, includes travel to the beach.

"Police and other agencies remain responsible for ensuring that people comply with the restrictions under the different COVID-19 alert levels," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.

"Where communities have determined to undertake checkpoints to prevent the spread of COVID-19, police is working with those communities and other agencies to ensure checkpoints are safe and not preventing lawful use of the road."