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Published: 2002-09-27 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has decided to discount the costs granted by the Court of Appeal over the Piako rating system.

The upper catchment appellants will pay 75 percent of the $58,346 awarded by the Court to Environment Waikato, with the remaining 25 percent to be paid 85 percent by Piako ratepayers and 15 percent by regional ratepayers.

A deputation of the appellants addressed this week’s Council meeting to appeal the awarding of costs against them. The group lost their case in the High Court that the Piako rate was unfair on upper catchment landowners and the Court of Appeal made judgement against them, awarding costs to the Council.

The Council’s total costs were $175,815 and the amount awarded was $58,346.

The appellants said they had paid a high price to clarify the law for the benefit of other councils throughout New Zealand.

Councillors took into account the democratic right of affected ratepayers to challenge Council decisions, the risk to democratic expression through the courts if substantial costs were recovered from appellants, and the extent to which the challenged issues were new or evolving policy and wider national precedents being established.

Councillors said they supported the Court’s decision and felt that the judges had taken into account the appellants’ concerns in awarding the amount of costs.

Several said they had difficulty in agreeing to pay any more ratepayers’ money out on this case. Cr O’Connor said the Council had to recover some of its costs, but it was a matter of where to draw the line.

Chairman Neil Clarke said he had a degree of sympathy for the appellants, who did not receive the advice they should have and were encouraged to take their court action. However they were mature, responsible people who would have known there were likely to be adverse consequences.

He suggested that the Council absorb 25 percent of the costs, with the balance paid by the appellants. The amount of costs not covered by the appellants would be paid by ratepayers in the same proportions as the Piako scheme funding policy – 85 percent by the Piako ratepayers and 15 percent by regional ratepayers.

He said he hoped the Council and the group could work together constructively in the future.
The leader of the upper catchment group, Graeme Trower, said the Piako area still had many unresolved issues and there was still bad feeling in the district over the rating scheme.