Council to pay $23,000 to property owners

Failed legal action against Dunedin landowners has landed the city council with a $23,000 bill.

The Dunedin City Council’s enforcement action against Kenmure property owners Steven and Michael Ross relating to vegetation clearance was found to be without substance and the Environment Court has made an order for costs against the council.

The award amounts to about half of the legal costs incurred by the landowners.

The council confirmed this week it did not lodge an appeal.

In a decision released last month, Judge Laurie Newhook said the council’s refusal to seriously attempt a settlement was unreasonable and the council had adopted a "technical and unmeritorious position".

The case related to clearance carried out at 123 Mornington Rd, in Kenmure.

Steven Ross told the court last year he used a digger to remove sycamore trees — regarded as a pest — from areas where using a chainsaw would have been difficult.

Other vegetation was trampled by the digger and he acknowledged a few native plants among the weeds were possibly lost.

Council officials instructed Mr Ross to stop the work, but then went much further.

They insisted on the erection of a fence, listed native species that should be planted, required that sycamore and pine trees be felled and asked that habitats for velvet worms be created.

The idea was to restore the area where vegetation was cleared, but the Environment Court rejected the council’s application for enforcement orders.

The property is part of an urban biodiversity mapped area, or a network of green corridors, in the Dunedin City Council’s second-generation district plan.

The council seeks to maintain or enhance biodiversity values in such areas.

A crucial point of difference between the parties was the council’s request for 10 artificial habitats to be created for peripatus, or velvet worms.

The landowners wanted this withdrawn.

A counter-offer from the council sought to impose "almost the same restrictions" on the property as the orders the council had applied for, the judge said.

The standard award of costs is often 25-33% of costs actually incurred.

Total legal costs for the Mornington Rd landowners were put at just over $50,000 and they got back just under half.

Judge Newhook said the landowners had no choice but to respond to the council’s application.

However, they were not blameless in the dispute, "having taken a cavalier attitude to district plan matters at the outset".

Steven Ross said he was not very happy with the result.

Council staff had been disgusting and unprofessional, he said.

"The council should never have taken it to court."

grant.miller@odt.co.nz

Comments

More rate payer money wasted

Given to the company, who will, of course, return it to the ratepayers, having made a point?

Sure.

Doesn't the council know cutting sycamores down is a waste of time? They re-sprout vigorously.
As for building artificial habitats for peripatus, does the council wildlife genius know how to make the worms move into council-spec accommodation? If they preferred to make their own arrangements would they be taken to court too?
The DCC has too many employees with not enough real work to do.

 

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