'A real change in attitude'

Dan Lyders, with Gillie, celebrates a settlement in his case against the Otago Regional Council over the height of a floodbank on the Meggat Burn which protects his property from flooding. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Dan Lyders, with Gillie, celebrates a settlement in his case against the Otago Regional Council over the height of a floodbank on the Meggat Burn which protects his property from flooding. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

A Berwick farmer who sued the Otago Regional Council for negligence feels vindicated after the local body pulled out of court action at the last moment and apologised.

Dan Lyders was about to get his day in court this week when the regional council initiated settlement talks and apologised for the position it had taken, saying it regretted a ''more collaborative approach was not taken at the time''.

He was surprised by the council's significant change in heart, given its attitude in the past.

''It shows common sense for a change and signals a real change in attitude for ratepayers,'' Mr Lyders said after the settlement wasreached.

''If it's going to adopt a collaborative approach, it augurs well for the future of 6A [water quality plan change] coming in.''

The case was initiated in 2012 as a result of damage done to Mr Lyders' farm during flooding in 2010 which he believed was due to the council's failure to raise a floodbank on the Meggat Burn to its design height, despite repeated requests.

So he laid claims in the district court that the council was negligent for not raising the bank to the design standard, even though it was aware it was substandard compared with the rest of the scheme.

In the meantime, he raised the bank himself and billed the council about $2500 for the work.

As a result, the council took him to the district court last year, where he was found guilty of breaching the council's water plan for doing the work without a resource consent.

Mr Lyders was discharged without conviction and ordered to pay about $7000.

He continued with his original claims against the council because of the ''principle'' and yesterday said he was glad he did.

''I achieved what I set out to do. I've got acknowledgment for what should have been done.''

The raised floodbank had been tested by flooding last year and stood up to the test, preventing at least $20,000 in flood damage to his property.

Part of the settlement included a letter from the regional council's chief executive, Peter Bodeker, which acknowledged the original works on the floodbank did not bring Mr Lyders' section of the bank up to the design height and did not afford the level of protection anticipated as a result.

''We also acknowledge that the rates paid could have been applied to raising the crest height of the low floodbank.''

Mr Lyders said the rest of the settlement, including if there was a financial payment, was confidential.

However, the whole process had cost him about $60,000 and he was concerned that sort of cost meant many landowners would not pursue action against regional councils.

''To me that is wrong. There is potential for regional councils to hide behind the cost it takes for an individual to buck them.''

An independent authority to hear complaints was needed, he said.

Mr Bodeker said yesterday the council had considered its options and felt it was better to settle the case.

While he would not comment further on the settlement, he confirmed no ratepayer funds had been involved.

''We've met with a ratepayer and come to an individual settlement. I hope it shows we are open to work through issues.''

rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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