An Environment Court judge slams Queenstown Lakes District Council for time-wasting and calls it obstinate and unhelpful in a stinging new verdict.
Other than in criminal cases, judges rarely use such strong language as Jon Jackson did when ending an 11-year stoush between QLDC and development company Remarkables Park – ordering the council to pay costs to RP.
The marathon slug-fest went 36 rounds in court between October 1998 and November 2009.
“[There was] poor management of the council’s case which unnecessarily lengthened the proceedings,” Judge Jackson intones.
The case was over “financial contributions” – developer levies – which QLDC wanted to embed in its district plan.
After a fruitless decade in court, QLDC last May switched to using the Local Government Act to extract the levies, later settling with RP.
However, Judge Jackson’s warned QLDC way back in 2003 that its district plan idea wasn’t on.
“Instead, the council appeared to want to hedge its bets and maintain these court proceedings while investigating its options under the LGA.”
With district plan appeals, Jackson then explains, “a relatively high threshold” is required before a court can order a loser to pay a winner’s costs.
Yet QLDC “conducted its case in an obstinate and rather unhelpful manner”, wasting the court and RP’s time – and RP’s money.
RP claimed $160,627 from QLDC but Jackson worried that ratepayers would suffer if such a big sum was awarded, instead deciding on $53,000.
This week, RP boss Alastair Porter says he wants an apology and an assurance “this won’t happen again”.
Asked who’s to blame at QLDC, Porter singles out recently departed council boss Duncan Field – “and clearly the mayor”, in power for nine years of the legal battle.
Mayor Clive Geddes also comes in for a sideswipe from Judge Jackson in his 14-page verdict.
Stressing it didn’t influence his costs decision, Jackson nevertheless takes Geddes to task for the mayor’s public criticism last month about Environment Court appeals being delayed “12 months or more”.
Jackson says appeal times in the Wakatipu are “about the average for the whole country”.
“But the [time] taken to resolve this [RP] proceeding shows some of the worst delays I have ever seen – and it is largely QLDC which has been the cause of the delays.”