Mangawhai ratepayers will have to wait to see if they will get a judicial review into the town's controversial sewerage scheme that cost more than five times originally expected.
An application for a judicial review into the Mangawhai EcoCare wastewater treatment scheme - lodged by the Mangawhai Residents and Ratepayers' Association - was heard over three days in the High Court at Whangarei before Justice Paul Heath this week. After hearing evidence from the associations's lawyers and those representing the Kaipara District Council, Justice Heath has reserved his decision.
Mangawhai ratepayers were initially told the final scheme would cost no more than $10.8 million in 2003, then $37 million in 2009, while at the same time the council had taken out a loan for $57.978 million. The scheme left KDC with total debt of around $80 million, leading to the Government dismissing the elected councillors and appointing commissioners to run the council.
The processes the council used for the scheme were also highly criticised by an Auditor General's report.
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Association lawyer Matthew Palmer said this was an important case not only for Kaipara ratepayers, the Mangawhai residents and the council, but also important for the constitution of New Zealand. It also affected the Bill of Rights Act and the rule of law.
The group wanted, in effect, the judge to rule that the KDC's interpretation of the law relating to debt is wrong. It also wanted to rule that the KDC, in supporting the Kaipara Validation Act - a law passed by Parliament validating irregularities in the setting and assessing of Kaipara District rates from the 2006-07 financial year to 2011-12 - was acting against the Local Government Act and its responsibilities to ratepayers.
However, council lawyer David Goddard, QC, said the application should be struck out because senior managers involved in the decision have been replaced, the Kaipara District Council has argued in the High Court at Whangarei.
In his submissions, Mr Goddard said the change of guard at KDC from the one involved in the decision to establish EcoCare from 2005 to 2007 meant the application should be struck out.
Mr Goddard said the decision to legislate was made by Parliament, not KDC, therefore it made no sense for the association to suggest that the enactment of the legislation was a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights. He said it would be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights for the court to impose civil liability on KDC as a result of participating in Parliamentary proceedings.
More than 100 Mangawhai residents were at the court for the hearing - which is due to last at least until tomorrow - with proceedings screened live in a neighbouring courtroom so all the residents could watch the action.