The high price of fighting City Hall

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A Queenstown couple who battled City Hall over a resource consent are out of pocket by $20,000 – even though they won. 

Marc Scaife and Christine Byrch faced down Queenstown’s council over a non-notified resource consent granted to the lodge-owning family of American billionaire Julian Robertson. 

The Robertsons were adding a four-guestroom addition to their Matakauri Lodge which borders Scaife and Byrch’s property. 

“We felt we should have been notified,” Scaife tells Mountain Scene now the battle’s over. 

“That would have given us the opportunity to make our case because we considered ourselves affected,” he says.

“By the time we found out about it, Matakauri had already been given their consent – we weren’t really in any position to negotiate.” 

Scaife, 54, blames the council for being one-eyed. 

Both Scaife and Byrch had hired a planning lawyer from Christchurch who discovered “major legal errors” in the non-notified decision, he claims. 

Scaife: “The council just tried to pretend there was no issue – that’s why we felt we had no option but to take it to court.” 

This meant applying for a High Court review of the non-notified consent decision. 

Their application for a review never got to court, however. 

Instead, the Robertsons surrendered their non-notified consent and reapplied – this time for a notified consent, which was also granted by the council. 

The notified application contained major mitigation measures, Scaife claims, whereas the preceding non-notified consent had none. 

With the proposal now notified, Scaife and Byrch could formally object and explain their concerns to a council hearings panel – a right denied them under the original consent. 

As Scaife puts it: “When it went to the notified application, we were able to have some input.” 

Scaife and Byrch were finally able to negotiate a settlement with Matakauri in October. 

When Scaife and Byrch’s High Court review application was subsequently being withdrawn, the council refused to contribute to their costs. Justice Chisholm wasn’t having a bar of that, however. 

“It’s inconceivable there was no connection between the issuing of this [review application] and the lodging of the new [consent] application on a notified basis,” he ruled. 

“It can be safely inferred that the new application for resource consent was made because of the [Robertson’s] concern that a reviewable error [by the council] might be exposed by the judicial review proceeding,” Justice Chisholm said. 

Justice Chisholm ordered the council to pay Scaife and Byrch just over $10,000 towards their approximately $30,000 costs. 

Their $20,000 net loss, plus the council’s own legal bills, makes the whole affair “a flagrant waste of money”, Scaife says. 

“The council could have avoided that if only they’d listened more constructively in the first place. 

“As they say, it’s really only the lawyers who win out of these things,” he says.