$25k bill for 'trivial' tree felling cases

JOEL MAXWELL
Last updated 10:51 22/05/2014

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Kapiti Observer

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Kapiti council spent $25,600 chasing three failed prosecutions over the cutting of native trees.

Kapiti Coast District Council yesterday revealed costs for the cases against two Otaki couples and a tree cutting contractor.

Community service group manager Tamsin Evans said the council paid $17,500 for legal costs, and $8100 for an ecologist's report.

It comes as the contractor at the centre of the prosecutions says the case has cost him thousands.

On Thursday, council chief executive Pat Dougherty publicly apologised to defendants in the latest cases taken over the cutting of native trees on private land in Otaki.

It came after Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer discharged couple Keith and Lorraine McLeavey without conviction or penalty, describing the case as ''trivial''.The council then dropped its remaining case against the contractor who performed the work.

Dougherty apologised to the McLeaveys and contractor Monkeyman Tree Services.

He had already apologised to Peter and Diana Standen in April after the council dropped its charges against the couple.
Monkeyman owner Craig Eddie said the decision was almost too little, too late.

''It asks as many questions as it answers. They keep dodging the issue and blaming process, and their advice, and no-one's accountable.''

He said the council operated by making a public apology, and then ''think's that's it''.

Dougherty said on Thursday that he had defended the decision to prosecute because he was advised there was sufficient evidence and the case was sound. 

''Our senior planning staff had been out to the site. We had a consultant ecologist go to the site and we had external legal advice. The advice was that there was a significant enough breach of the district plan rules to justify a prosecution.''

The council would investigate how that advice was ''so different from the judge's view'', he said.

Dougherty said the council would ask a respected Queen's Counsel to review the processes and advice it received in the cases.

Meanwhile, Eddie said the total - in the thousands - for his legal advice was likely to go close to double figures. ''I haven't rounded it up yet . . . my legal bills haven't all come in yet."

>He would not say whether he would seek costs from the council for the prosecution.In February the Standens went public with their fight against the council over work they say was done for safety reasons.

The Standens, their neighbours the McLeaveys and Monkeyman faced charges for trimming and cutting down native trees without resource consent.

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Council dropped the Monkeyman case because Judge Dwyer decided the McLeavey offending was on the trivial end of the scale and did not justify prosecution.Monkeyman had elected for a jury trial and, given the potential cost and Dwyer's comments, the council decided to seek to have the case withdrawn.

- Kapiti Observer

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