Like a gun to your head

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Lakes Environmental’s pistol-pointing pre-pay policy on resource consents has made another enemy. 

Like local builder and former councillor Rick Pettit earlier this month, Aucklander Peter Clark accuses LE of “abuse of power” – by asking him to pre-pay the final bill on his consent hearing before the council regulator would issue its decision. 

Clark had already paid a substantial sum ahead of the hearing, similar to Pettit’s case reported in Mountain Scene three weeks ago. 

But unlike Pettit, Clark even had emailed confirmation that his final bill wasn’t due when LE put the screws on. 

Clark’s lawyer, David Kirkpatrick: “When you’re dealing with processes under a public statute like the Resource Management Act, debt collecting doesn’t necessarily become the main concern. 

“You still have to look at the statutory process of delivering decisions.” 

Mountain Scene understands a consent decision must be given 15 working days after a hearing – last August 18, in Clark’s case. But on August 10, LE sent Clark an account with two invoices – one for $4640 was due, he says, so he wrote a cheque there and then. 

The other for $9272 wasn’t due until August 20 and the regulator acknowledged that, Clark says, showing Mountain Scene an August 14 email from LE staffer Hanna Afifi: “The application is on ‘Stop Credit’ for two invoices, one of which has been paid by cheque and another that is due on August 20. 

“No further work can be done (including issuing the decision) until the second invoice has been paid in addition to the cheque received today.” 

In 30 years of business, 55-year-old Clark says he’s “never come across such arrogance and bully tactics”. 

After coughing up the pre-payment to get the planning verdict, he found two Queenstown Lakes District Council commissioners had rejected his consent application – he’s now waiting to appeal in the Environment Court. 

The self-styled conservationist wants to build a $2.5 million home in an “outstanding natural landscape” zone near Sunshine Bay. 

The planning process has taken two years and more than $250,000, Clark reckons, plus $30,000 in LE bills – including $3160 to photocopy his application for affected parties. Then there’s the $17.26 LE charged to organise a site visit by water taxi: “It takes one minute to ring a taxi.” 

LE planning boss Brian Fitzpatrick says the pre-pay demand is justified because the RMA says councils “need not perform the action to which the charge relates until the charge has been paid to it in full”. 

He adds that $3000 photocopy bills are “not completely uncommon” but anyone can query LE’s charges. Fitzpatrick also points out the Environment Court has tossed out an earlier consent application on the same land – though Clark says the house design was almost twice the size of his. 

Hamish Dobbie, LE’s top boss, has earlier admitted the pre-pay policy is “reasonably tough” and generates complaints – but it’s fair because it’s disclosed up front.