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Published: 2001-05-21 00:00:00

The High Court has given a judgement that Environment Waikato has acted legally in its rating of properties in the Piako River Protection Scheme.

This follows a decision by a group of high country farmers to seek a judicial review of the Council’s actions.

The Court has awarded costs to the Council.

The group contested the legality of aspects of the differential rate imposed by the Council on the farm properties to finance its Piako River Scheme, saying that neither the Local Government Amendment Act nor the Rating Powers Act authorised imposition of the contested rates.

In respect of a rating category based on benefit it contested that the Council acted “unlawfully, unreasonably or irrationally”. The farmers claimed they received no benefit as required by the legislation and that they did not contribute to the need for the scheme by using the land for farming. They said they had a natural right to discharge their surface water onto lower lying land, and since much of the drainage in the upper catchment was completed by 1960, the farmers were simply maintaining the status quo.

In each case their properties had been fully or substantially developed for more than 70 years.

The Council maintained that the challenged rates were legal and it was entitled to strike them. It said it had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the proposals finally adopted were examined in detail by its staff, councillors and the public and had acted in a conscientious manner.

In making his decision, Mr Justice Morris said there was no suggestion the Council had acted in bad faith, and it had considered the provisions of the various statutes as required. There was also no attack on the ability of the Council to strike a differential rate.

“Council, on all the material before it in respect of both the contributor classifications and D9 classifications, was justified in reaching the conclusions it did. Indeed I find it difficult to see how it could come to any other conclusions.

“I find it unreal to say the higher properties do not receive some benefit, albeit minimal, from the proposed drainage scheme.

“The common law right to discharge water from the higher ground still exists but the ability of a scheme to move any water so discharged away from the lower land more quickly must benefit the higher land by in turn enabling water falling on such land to flow faster from it, this lessening the risk of ponding and the like,” he said.

Environment Waikato Chairman Neil Clarke said he was pleased the issue had been swiftly resolved so that no further costs would fall on the ratepayers throughout the Region in defending the Council’s decision. Councillors had been confident of the process they followed in striking the rate and the scheme could now go ahead with a fair distribution of costs confirmed.

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