12,000 truckloads of fill has to be removed, court rules

A High Court judge has ordered Canterbury company March Construction to cart 12,000 truckloads of fill from a Queenstown development site.

The court battle, won by landowner Queenstown Central Ltd, dates back to developer Dave Henderson's time on his $1billion Five Mile village project, which collapsed in 2008 - leaving what became known as ''Hendo's Hole''.

Taking away the estimated 143,000cum of fill from the neighbouring site - where the Five Mile retail centre is being developed - will cost March Construction ''some millions'', the judgement says.

March tried to argue in the High Court at Christchurch it did not own the fill, but Justice Nick Davidson's judgement, released on Monday, said: ''March still owns the fill and is liable in trespass.''

The fill was initially allowed to be temporarily stored on the site for five years. But, in 2007, worried about a Five Mile Holdings debt of a ''million-odd dollars'', March signed a $100,000 agreement, taking ownership of the fill, in the hope of getting leverage over Mr Henderson's company.

After Five Mile collapsed, March sent legal letters asserting its ownership to several parties, including financiers Hanover and Queenstown Central, which bought the land in 2010 for $27million.

The construction company back-pedalled, however, after Queenstown Central demanded it remove the fill, turning a potential asset into a troublesome and expensive liability.

Before court action was launched, March denied ownership, tried to sell the fill and transfer ''security interest'' to a separate company - which Queenstown Central labelled a ''sham'' transaction.

March Construction part-owner Buzz March confirmed yesterday: ''We're going to get in and start moving it.''

Queenstown Central general manager Simon Holloway said: ''It's just nice to have the matter resolved.''

''Now there will be lots of activity on the site,'' Mr Holloway said.

Justice Davidson sympathised with March Construction - now 55% owned by French construction giant Vinci - saying it was a reputable and long-established engineering contractor.

He praised principals Buzz March and sons Andrew and Guy for their ''disarmingly frank'' and ''remarkably candid'' evidence. But it did them no favours.

He dismissed the company's arguments against its ownership, including that the fill was now considered part of the land and that Queenstown Central got a discount on the land sale to offset disposal costs.

March was clearly the owner, the judge said, as per the 2007 agreement, its repeated assertions to several companies and a registration of a proprietary interest in 2008.

''Actions speak louder than words,'' the judgement said.

Opposing lawyer Malcolm Crotty characterised the company's legal about-face as an ''Alice in Wonderland'' proposition.

Justice Davidson said the fill removal would run into ''some millions of dollars'' and noted the award by the court of thousands of dollars in rent to Queenstown Central posed ''a real commercial risk to March''.

Mr March was also behind a failed bid to build a marina in Queenstown.

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