Greater Wellington Regional Council asked to pay $100,000 more for botched court case

Upper Hutt's Whitemans Valley lands were challenged in the Environmental Court as wetlands.

Provided / Stuff

Upper Hutt’s Whitemans Valley lands were challenged in the Environmental Court as wetlands.

A botched wetlands court case, pursued by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, will likely cost them $100,000 plus legal fees of nearly half a million.

The council has already had to pay $482,000 to cover the legal costs of all other parties to the environmental tribunal hearing last year.

Now the court is asking her to pay $100,000 out of the $161,864.54 she cost the court.

The council had applied to the court for enforcement orders relating to alleged wetlands in need of protection in the Whitemans Valley in Upper Hutt.

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Not only did he fail to prove the existence of wetlands, but the court decided that he had failed to demonstrate that if there were, they were not excluded from protection under particular part of the Resource Management Act which now considered them pasture.

All parties’ costs were incurred by three different groups of lawyers and expert witnesses who acted for property developer Stuart Adams, landowners who bought sections from him, and Upper Hutt City Council, who granted consent to resources.

In a rare move, the court also said it was considering asking the council to pay its own costs, which is only done in extreme cases.

Judge Brian Dwyer gave council 10 days to make submissions on the issue of costs.

Maarten Holl / Stuff

Judge Brian Dwyer gave council 10 days to make submissions on the issue of costs.

On Monday, the court issued an interim decision. Judge Brian Dwyer said the proceedings brought by the council were “without merit at the most basic and fundamental level and that his case was utterly without merit in the absence of substantial evidence to support the argument that he was trying to assert”.

In its judgment, the court said the regional council had failed by a huge margin to prove its case.

Dwyer said he was aware of the unusual nature of such an award against any party, let alone a local authority undertaking what its officers saw as its primary duty to protect natural wetlands.

He said this was not done to punish the council but to reimburse the Crown for costs which should not have been incurred on the basis of evidence – or in this case, the lack of evidence.

Dwyer said the decision was for costs of $100,000, but on an interim basis to give the board 10 days to comment on whether to award it against them.

Elna M. Lemons