Business Editor for the NZ Herald

$70m land claim knocked back again

David McCormick - one of the claimants  in a legal claim involving land on the Te Atatu Peninsula.  Photo / Dean Purcell.
David McCormick - one of the claimants in a legal claim involving land on the Te Atatu Peninsula. Photo / Dean Purcell.

An attempt to reclaim $70 million worth of waterfront land on Auckland's Te Atatu Peninsula has been knocked back by the Supreme Court for a second time.

The Supreme Court, in March of this year, had already refused to take the case.

Another bid to re-argue the matter was rejected this morning by Justices Sian Elias, Mark O'Regan and William Young said.

The land in question was acquired by the Auckland Harbour Board more than 50 years ago to build a port, but by the late 1970s it became clear that project would not go ahead.

It was rezoned and while some of the land forms part of a residential subdivision, most is within a public park and its potential value for housing is huge.

Laws passed in the early 1980s obliged local authorities to offer to sell land no longer required for public works back to its original owners at its current value.

The descendants of the seven original owners have claimed the successor of the Harbour Board - Auckland Council - breached its duty to offer to sell the land back to them.

They applied to the High Court to get a declaration saying this - effectively requiring the council to offer to sell the land back to them at 1980s prices - but were unsuccessful.

They challenged the matter to the Court of Appeal but, again, were unsuccessful.

The appellate court ruled the board had a duty to offer the land back to four of the seven descendants, because it had acquired the land for a public work and by 1982 still held but no longer required the land for this purpose.

But Justices Rhys Harrison, Christine French and Jillian Mallon decided not to declare that the council had to offer the land back to the group.

"The descendants had waited too long before bringing their claim, with the consequence that the council has developed the Te Atatu land into residential housing and a public park that was made possible by levying special rates from the community," the Court of Appeal said.

"The descendants were also not particularly attached to the land. Under agreements they had made with a company that would fund and run this case, the descendants would not keep the land. It would go to the litigation funding company, giving it a windfall because of the substantial difference between the value of the land in the 1980s and its value today," the court said.

While the descendants tried to take the matter to the Supreme Court, the country's highest judicial body refused to hear the case:

"We do not see the issues that the applicants now wish to raise as being matters of general or public importance. Nor do we see any risk of a miscarriage of justice in the event that leave is not given," Justices Elias, O'Regan and Young said in March.

The descendants of the land owners then tried to recall that judgment and wanted a hearing to decide whether or not the Supreme Court should take the case.

They argued the Supreme Court based its decision over whether to hear their appeal on two incorrect statements.

But they failed to convince Justices Sian Elias, Mark O'Regan and William Young of this and the judges this morning dismissed the bid to recall their decision.

The council was awarded $1000 in court costs.

- NZ Herald

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