Shoestring heritage fighters have been rocked by a court's order to pay for the Masonic Hotel owner's defence of a proposed apartment development.
The Environment Court says it is fair and reasonable for Devonport Heritage Inc and the Masonic Friendly Society to each pay $22,350 to Redback Develop.
The Historic Places Trust, a party in the appeal case, must pay $14,900. The total award is a quarter of the $238,571 Redback sought to cover some legal and expert witness costs.
"We're very disappointed... It's a sad day for heritage preservation and ironically comes out during Auckland Heritage Week," said Devonport Heritage spokeswoman Margot McRae.
"It's a setback for community groups around the country when such punishing costs can be awarded against not-for-profit societies."
In a reserved decision, Judge Craig Thompson said one of the three court members, commissioner Heather McConachy, wanted no costs ordered.
But all court members agreed with Redback's complaint about tactics of deliberate delay and obfuscation.
In July last year, the court denied the appeal against the resource consent issued by the former North Shore City Council in April 2009.
In the hearing, the appellants made a full-scale assault on the 2000 district plan scheduling of the tavern, even trying to stop Judge Thompson from sitting on the Environment Court to hear the appeal.
They believed the front of the 1860s hotel would be largely rebuilt and original parts would be mostly demolished.
"We are very conscious that both societies are comprised of people who are sincere in their beliefs and intentions," said the judge, noting the case had already cost them about $40,000 plus a further $20,000 from the legal assistance fund managed by the Ministry for the Environment.
He said ordering costs against public interest groups could deter bona fide cases being taken up.
But the unrestricted right to appear before the court carried the duty to act responsibly. The fact that an organisation might struggle to meet an award was not a disqualifying factor.
Judge Thompson said the Historic Places Trust's position was similar to that of the societies, though its witnesses were moderate in their views.
Trust northern regional manager Sherry Reynolds said she would not comment on a decision she had not seen.
In July, Auckland Council heritage forum chairwoman Sandra Coney had the council's costs claim of $106,500 withdrawn, saying it was futile because the groups could not pay.
Spokeswoman Claudia Page said that was true for the Masonic Friendly Society.
"Responding to the costs claim has cleaned us out."
$22,350 the amount Devonport Heritage Inc and the Masonic Friendly Society are each to pay to Redback Develop.
$14,900 amount the Historic Places Trust has been ordered to pay.
$238,571amount Redback Develop claimed to cover some of its legal and expert witness costs.By Wayne Thompson Email Wayne