Bid fails to block stadium grant

Basil WalkerQueenstown man Basil Walker has been unsuccessful in his attempt to block the Otago Regional Council granting $37.5 million for the Forsyth Barr Stadium after failing to persuade a High Court judge the funding process was unlawful.

Apart from failing in his legal action, the undischarged bankrupt now faces thousands of dollars in court costs after Justice Graham Lang ruled there was "no reason why costs should not follow the event".

Justice Lang yesterday released his decision dismissing Mr Walker's case after a hearing last Thursday in the High Court at Dunedin.

ORC corporate services director Wayne Scott said yesterday the decision was no surprise for the council.

"Frankly, the challenge wasn't justifiable.

"It was unfortunate it took time and money - ratepayers' time and money," he said.

Mr Walker said he was disappointed and concerned councils thought people were informed if information was on a website.

He did not believe people realised the cost to the council would be far more than $37.5 million as a result of interest costs.

"Unless you're born after Google, it's not that easy."

Mr Walker represented himself at the hearing last week, when he sought a judicial review of the funding decision.

Justice Lang's 26-page ruling noted Mr Walker's argument was based on section 97 of the Local Government Act, which prohibits councils from undertaking a "significant" new activity, or making a decision that would significantly affect the costs to the local authority, unless it was explicitly provided for in the council's long-term council community plan.

Mr Walker argued the ORC had failed to disclose the interest it would have to pay on money borrowed to provide the funding.

But Justice Lang said the argument ignored the fact the ORC had advised ratepayers it intended to borrow the funds and had informed them of the likely cost of that borrowing.

He did not accept Mr Walker's argument the impact of GST was not explicitly described as the council would be entitled to claim a GST input tax credit equivalent to what it paid.

Mr Walker claimed the $15 million the Government had provided for the project should be shared between the regional and city councils, which he said had been agreed by the two councils, but Justice Lang again differed.

"It is quite clear, however, that the Government has agreed to provide the sum of $15 million in order to bridge the shortfall in funding from the private sector."

It was not provided to reduce the burden on ratepayers, generally.

Justice Lang said Mr Walker had placed "considerable emphasis" on ratepayers outside Dunedin paying for a facility they may never use, something he suspected lay at the heart of his opposition.

"I accept without reservation that this may be a significant issue for some ratepayers who live in areas outside Dunedin city.

"They may well feel aggrieved at the fact that they are being asked to fund a project that they believe will be of little or no direct benefit to them.

"I have no doubt that there will also be people who live within Dunedin city itself who share the same view."

Only time would tell whether the new stadium would provide benefits to the whole Otago region, but there was no jurisdiction for the court to challenge the ORC's decision.

"The application for judicial review of the council's decision is dismissed."

Mr Scott said the council would be pursuing costs.

Mr Walker said he was not concerned about costs and was not ruling out an appeal.

 

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