Family happy land conflict resolved

The Court of Appeal has confirmed that a disputed piece of land at Matapouri belonged to the family which sold it to the Crown to be included in a scenic reserve.

The land at Otito, Matapouri, was owned by the Ringer family.

Friends of Matapouri (FOM) and Te Whanau o Rangiwhakaahu Hapu Charitable Trust lodged High Court action against the Department of Conservation, Land Information NZ and the then attorney-general over the land in 2008.

The two groups claimed a 1999 survey of the Ringer land was wrong and included a part of the Otito Reserve. They said the land and its wahi tapu sites originally formed part of the Otito Reserve that was sold to the Crown by the hapu, but was wrongly converted to private ownership through a surveying error in 1999.

The hapu, supported by FOM, sought to review the subsequent decision of the surveyor-general not to correct the survey and wanted the land included as part of the Otito Reserve and sought damages against the Crown. It wanted a ruling that the survey was not an accurate representation of the common boundary between the reserve and the Ringer family land.

The matter went to court in 2010 when Justice Heath found that the chief surveyor erred in law by applying the wrong test in making a decision to approve the 1999 survey, but dismissed the hapu's claims. Justice Heath found that while 1.1 hectares of the Otito Reserve had been "lost" as a result of the survey, the Ringer family acquired title to the land in good faith.

That judgment was appealed and in a recent decision the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals.

The court ruled that costs were to lie where they fell.

In 2009 the Crown paid the Ringer family $3.5 million for a piece of the land fronting the water to be included in the Otito Reserve.

A spokeswoman for the Ringer family welcomed the ruling and said the family hoped that the judgment finally put an end to what had been a distressing and longstanding issue for all parties.

"We are pleased that Court of Appeal has confirmed - once again - that the disputed land at Matapouri belonged to the Ringer family before we sold it to the Crown in late 2009," she said.

FOM and the hapu were evaluating the Court of Appeal decision and actively considering their options.

- Northern Advocate

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