A Queen's Counsel lawyer was able to win a large financial payout from Auckland Council after proving his Herne Bay house had been damaged by heavy roadworks machinery, the Herald has discovered.

Revelations of the 2010 payout come as Conifer Grove residents say they are locked in a David-and-Goliath battle with the NZ Transport Agency and construction firm CPB Contractors over roadworks on the Southern Motorway.

The home owners allege vibrations from rumbling machinery working on the motorway is causing hundreds-of-thousands of damage to their properties - a claim the NZTA denies.

Their plight has caught the attention of law firm Adina Thorn, which says it is interested in speaking to the home owners to understand whether there was a case for a class action.

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Retired QC Paul Cavanagh, meanwhile, says he went through a similar problem almost 10 years ago when roadworks on Curran Street sent cracks snaking through the walls of his Herne Bay townhouse.

Yet - unlike the Conifer Grove residents - Cavanagh spent a legal career representing those affected by public building projects and was well equipped to sue for damages.

He didn't reveal how much he won in compensation, but said it was high enough for Auckland Council "to squabble over and try and avoid paying".

"It just so happened they shouldn't have upset my house," he said.

He recommended that - with potentially a dozen or more Conifer Grove residents alleging the motorway roadworks had damaged their homes - they band together to mount their case.

"Get a good lawyer and act as a group," he said, when asked what they should do.

Gayleen Smith says her house has suffered $500,000 worth of damage because of the work being done on the motorway. Photo / Diego Opatowski
Gayleen Smith says her house has suffered $500,000 worth of damage because of the work being done on the motorway. Photo / Diego Opatowski

Local resident Gayleen Smith is one of those affected by the work and said she's been through "two years of pure hell".

Her Walter Strevens Drive home has an estimated $500,000 in damage she blames on the roadworks.

She claimed she first noticed cracks opening in the walls of her two-storey timber home and its fibre cement cladding after the roadworks started up.

Yet neither her insurance company or NZTA's contractor are willing to pay for repairs, arguing the damage dates from before the start of the motorway extension.

Brylee Drive resident Dianne Walker said her insurance company was still investigating whether cracks in her home were caused by the motorway construction and that proving the cause of the damage had been a nightmare.

She said CPB Contractors were so hard to deal with that most other Conifer Grove residents simply gave up.

Dianne and Cliff Walker say they've fought NZTA on many issues arising from the project. Photo / Diego Opatowski
Dianne and Cliff Walker say they've fought NZTA on many issues arising from the project. Photo / Diego Opatowski

However, NZTA senior manager project delivery, Chris Hunt, said the agency and its contractors had worked hard to be a good neighbour to affected residents.

Contractors had to meet strict "resource consent" conditions and carry out regular monitoring, such as by measuring vibration levels.

So far all reports had concluded vibration levels were "comfortably below the guideline values", he said.

Cavanagh said contractors had done a similar thing at his Herne Bay property by setting up vibration monitors in his basement.

However, they then drove small machinery up and down the street, rather than the 15-tonne vibrating roller that he said shook his house as if it was in an earthquake.

He said the key to proving his Herne Bay home had been damaged by roadworks was forcing the council to employ engineers to do a so called "dilapidation survey" before construction started.

This involved analysing each building in the street so it could be proven any damage that emerged later had not been there before the roadworks.

He also said it was important the Conifer Grove residents commissioned their own independent studies into the damage to their homes, saying this was again reason for them to band together so they could share the costs.

Conifer Grove residents Smith and Walker claim CPB Contractors only sent people out to photograph their homes after they had already complained about damage.

So far they have also baulked at the cost of hiring lawyers.

NZTA's Hunt said the agency and its contractors had already undertaken about 133 "pre-condition surveys to assess the condition of properties along the entire length of the [Southern Corridors Improvement] project".

These were completed by an "independent and reputable" company, he said, but not all home owners took part.

"Letters are sent to property owners inviting them to agree to a pre-condition survey, however not all property owners agree or we may not hear back from some owners," he said.

He also said the NZTA would work with Conifer Grove home owners to engage another "independent expert to further investigate the perceived damage".

"We will continue to work with property owners in the coming weeks to independently investigate each claim," he said.