Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board has won a big victory in a long-running dispute over the value of its land near Auckland's waterfront.
A professional arbitrator has ruled the iwi's land at the apartment complex Parnell Terraces at 18-24 The Strand is worth $12.3 million, the higher end of the scale, meaning the lessees who own hundreds of townhouses and apartments and paid no rent for 15 years will now have to pay steep new annual ground rent fees.
That decision will also set a precedent for other property owners on the entire 20ha, including corporates in high-rise office blocks and other apartment dwellers.
The arbitration ruling from retired High Court judge Robert Fisher QC did not support the arguments by experts for the leaseholders who sought values around half the iwi's.
At stake are the annual fees to be paid by owners of 317 apartments and townhouses in a group of streets at the bottom of Parnell.
Ngati Whatua can charge an annual 6 per cent of the unimproved value of the ex-railway land, so the argument over many weeks in a Lumley Centre boardroom on Shortland St was over the worth of the ground between Quay St and The Strand.
Owners of five complexes fought the iwi: Parnell Terraces, owners of buildings on Cotesmore Way, Dovedale Place, Sudbury Terrace and high-rise The Mirage at 86-88 The Strand off Quay St. Only the Parnell Terraces' decision is out so far.
Ngati Whatua engaged commercial barrister Liam McEntegart, formerly of Simpson Grierson, as well as expert valuers Reid Quinlan of Segars & Partners and Sean Molloy of Extensor.
The Ngati Whatua valuers argued that the land was worth around $13 million but lessee valuers Iain Gribble & Nigel Dean argued for closer to $6 million to $7 million.
Fisher has come down in favour of Molloy and Quinlan's arguments, ruling the land is worth $12.3 million.
Gribble was philosophical about the outcome.
"Valuation is not an exact science. You'll always get variations in views, so you live with it," he said, referring to his argument for a lower worth due to the quality of the land and factors like the Britomart tunnel compromising it, reclamation and many different uses over the decades.
He cited land contamination, instability, a tunnel's intrusion and industry degradation and said the argument came down to engineering evidence.
"That's what it came down to in the end," Gribble said.
The lessees are now in negotiations with a Ngati Whatua executive over how the outcome of the case is released.
"They're trying to strongarm us," one lessee complained of the iwi. "There's still unsettled issues. Ngati Whatua wants to use this arbitration to show everyone else."
Fisher has also decided valuations on the GE Finance & BNZ buildings but those are yet to be released.