Lobby group loses last legal option in wastewater battle

By Imran Ali

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The last vestige of hope for a Northland ratepayers' lobby group fighting against the setting of rates for a controversial wastewater scheme in Kaipara is gone after the Supreme Court refused leave to appeal.

The decision of the highest court, released this week, means the Mangawhai Residents and Ratepayers' Association has exhausted all legal avenues in its fight against the Kaipara District Council, which is run by government-appointed commissioners.

The Kaipara Validation Act validated irregularities in the setting and assessing of Kaipara district rates from the 2006/07 financial year to 2011/12 in respect of the Mangawhai wastewater scheme.

In May 2014, the association succeeded in the High Court in obtaining a declaration that the council acted unlawfully in entering into contracts for the project.

It failed, however, in its challenge to the validity of rates levied, including on its members, in a damages claim against the council.

The association's appeal in the Court of Appeal also failed.

It then sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which dismissed the application and ordered the association to pay $2500 in costs to the council.

The Supreme Court said the Act validated rates and not council's borrowings because the loans were deemed to be lawful under the protected transactions provisions of the Local Government Act 2002. But the association argued rates that were set by the council to pay for the wastewater scheme were unlawful because the purpose for which they were set was, itself, unlawful.

Supreme Court judges said the association's argument could not succeed in the face of clear wording in the Local Government Act pertaining to protected transactions.

Association chairman Bruce Rogan said the whole issue his members fought for had been politicised and that the public would now have to decide whether to allow totalitarianism to dominate in their local government.

"We operated on the assumption the justice system would deliver justice to those who've had crimes committed against them. Perhaps the whole idea of local government election is an illusion for people to believe they have a say, when in fact they don't."

Mr Rogan said the association decided to fight all the way to the highest court because it believed there were very significant moral and ethical issues that needed to be determined.

Council's chairman of commissioners, John Robertson, welcomed the Supreme Court decision. "This closes the judicial review case first launched by the MRRA against the council in 2014. There can be no more appeals on this case."

- Northern Advocate

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