Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Waikato ratepayers hit with big legal bills

Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker. Photo /  Christine Cornege
Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker. Photo / Christine Cornege

Waikato ratepayers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal advice sought by councils fighting each other and on issues from the V8s debacle down to cutting down mangroves.

The Waikato's five largest councils - Hamilton City Council, Waikato Regional Council, Waipa District Council, Waikato District Council and Matamata-Piako District Council - spend more than $1 million a year on expert external legal costs.

The figures were supplied to the Herald under the Official Information Act.

Hamilton City Council's largest single legal spend was $49,469 on the Peacocke structure plan for the city's southern growth area, followed by costs linked to making the district plan operative.

The city council has spent $29,117 in a court battle with the Waikato Regional Council over the regional council's claim that the city leaked 90,000 litres of partly treated sewage into the Waikato River.

The regional authority's bill so far is $5000.

Lawyers were also called in to give advice on the damning V8 audit and terminating the contract for the event early.

The ongoing stoush between the Frankton Business Association and large retailer Forlongs over closing Commerce St for the Frankton markets on Saturday meetings has also required significant input from council law firm Tompkins Wake.

But Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the money was well spent on good advice over legal risks.

"One of the things that is very important - and history shows this - is that at times when full advice is not obtained, things can go off the rails."

Waipa District Council spent $113,705 on advice over the Maungatautari ecological island project, south of Cambridge, as the ongoing stoush between landowners and councils over access continues.

Waikato Regional Council paid $492,202 to lawyers for advice on the water allocation plan variation aimed at managing the allocation and use of freshwater over all of the Waikato region. Numerous parties appealed against the plan to the Environment Court.

More than $100,000 each was spent on Waihou River capital work and removing mangroves from the Whangamata Estuary.

Waikato District Council spent $74,982 on legal advice over its refusal of a land resource consent to allow Raglan business Playground Events to operate events from its Te Uku property, and $44,215 on the large Contact Energy wind farm between Port Waikato and Raglan.

Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson blamed the majority of legal costs over legislation thrust on to them by central government.

"Everything we deal with these days has a large element of legality around it and it's a real problem. It's getting so difficult now you have to engage lawyers all the time."

Legal commentator Ron Pol said local councils could save large sums of money by relying on good in-house counsel rather than continuing to use large external law firms.

Hamilton City Council

Peacocke structure plan - $49,469
Meadows subdivision - $31,337
River sewage spill - $29,117
V8s, audit, contract termination - $27,453
Frankton Market road closure - $26,225

Waipa District Council

RPV6 (regional water allocation dispute) - $131,674
Maungatautari ecological island project - $113,705
Te Awamutu water supply/consents - $73,134
Cambridge waste water treatment plant upgrade - $24,493

Waikato District Council

Damages claim settlement - $30,021
Playground Events land consent appeal - $74,982
Contact Energy wind farm - $44,215

Matamata-Piako District Council

Morrinsville waste water treatment upgrade - $128,859
Waiteariki Stream resource consent - $28,390
Matamata water supply resource consent - $14,957

Waikato Regional Council

Water allocation plan variation - $492,202
Waihou River capital work - $118,900
Whangamata mangrove relocation - $114,170

- NZ Herald

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