$10,000 spent in $250 road toll case

By Brendan Manning

NZTA have spent $9969 in legal costs. Photo / Dean Purcell.
NZTA have spent $9969 in legal costs. Photo / Dean Purcell.

An outspoken opponent of roads tolls has cost a government agency almost $10,000 in legal bills.

Retired lawyer Hans Grueber, 72, describes his stand against the Northern Gateway Toll Road as "a public service".

Eighteen notices for unpaid tolls have been issued by the NZTA to Dr Grueber to date, to the value of $90.20. Four $40 infringement notices have also been issued.

Figures revealed under the Official Information Act show the NZTA spend $9969 in responding to the case in the district court.

The legal cost to the Crown of Dr Grueber's subsequent appeals is not known.

In 2010, Dr Grueber told the NZ Herald he welcomed being pursued for arrears so he could argue in court that tolls were introduced illegally.

In 2012, Dr Grueber lost a defended hearing at North Shore District Court, then appealed against the decision to the High Court.

Dr Grueber's argument, both in the District Court and in the High Court, was that he was not liable to pay the toll because it had not been lawfully imposed.

At Dr Grueber's 2013 High Court appearance he told Justice Patricia Courtney that the consultation process on which the Transport Agency relied was flawed by incorrect information provided during community consultation.

However at the same hearing, Crown lawyer Karen Chang warned Justice Courtney that if she accepted jurisdiction over Dr Grueber's challenge there could be an impact on every toll charged by the Transport Agency since the road opened.

She also suggested that a judicial review would have been a more appropriate vehicle to challenge the scheme.

Dr Grueber has been seeking release of documents from NZTA through the courts, which was refused by the Court of Appeal in June.

Dr Grueber said as he has represented himself throughout the scheme, he hasn't accrued any legal fees.

The most recent NZTA operating report available on the toll road showed 97 per cent of tolls were paid in the 12 months to June 30, 2013.

The same report showed 37,927 people owed $584,000 due to outstanding tolls.

Outstanding debt on the road was $193 million at June 30, 2013. The expected timeframe to repay the debt was 35 years from when the road was opened in January 2009.

The toll will be removed when the road is paid for.

NZTA said it would be inappropriate to comment further until the conclusion of court proceedings.

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By the numbers:

* $250.20 owed by Dr Grueber in unpaid tolls and infringement notices

* $9969 spent by NZTA on legal fees

* $193 million outstanding debt on the road

* 2044 - when the toll road is forecast to be paid off

- APNZ

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