Resource consent has yet to be approved, but residents with homes in the path of the proposed Kapiti expressway have been told to start negotiating - or face compulsory acquisition.
Graham Bathgate and Beth Lindsay own a property alongside State Highway 1 in Raumati South, and received a notice from Land Information New Zealand on Friday stating they had three months to negotiate with the Crown, and that "the Crown may commence to acquire land compulsorily if agreement cannot be reached within three months of the date of service of this notice".
But the accompanying letter from the Property Group, which acts on behalf of the New Zealand Transport Agency, said the notice outlined the minimum legal period and was intended to formally start the process.
The notice and accompanying letter stated the Crown's Property Group had been instructed to progress negotiations for the purchase of the property, needed for NZTA's intended construction of the McKays to Peka Peka expressway. "This is the first stage of the process to compulsorily acquire land . . . the Crown must negotiate for at least three months before continuing any further with the compulsory acquisition process," the letter said.
The letter comes before next month's board of inquiry hearing to consider resource consent for the final route.
Mr Bathgate said the letter came "out of the blue". NZTA officials had reassured him he could have an extension to stay on his property until July next year.
"As if it wasn't upsetting enough to be forced out of our home, we now have to deal with being told we have 90 days to negotiate something we don't want . . .
"It is very unsettling, frightening. Hells bells, we have not even had the inquiry."
The timeline put "undue pressure" on the process, he said.
Patricia Cosgrove and her husband, who live in nearby Leinster Ave, received the same letter and also felt they were being pressured before the board's decision.
"If we could find a property to replace ours with the money they are offering, we would be very happy to do that."
The proposed 16-kilometre, four-lane expressway has sparked strong opposition from some community members, as well as support from others.
NZTA acting Wellington state highways manager Mike Seabourne said notices of desire to acquire land had been served on 27 landowners, with whom the agency was already negotiating.
"This provides official notice of NZTA's desire to acquire land . . . for the McKays to Peka Peka expressway. The notices formally invite landowners to sell the land and advises the estimated amount of compensation and a contact if the owner wishes to negotiate further."
The Public Works Act allowed three months to a year to complete these negotiations. Three months was the minimum timeframe in the Public Works Act 1981, he said.
If negotiations were unsuccessful, the act provided for a Notice of Intention to be served to take the land.
Residents who were served a notice could lodge an objection with the Environment Court.
"A notice of desire to acquire the land does not provide notice to the landowner to vacate the property. Property owners are entitled to obtain legal advice and, if they wish to negotiate further, contact the NZTA's service provider.
"We appreciate this is an unsettling time for those who are affected by this project, and we have invited all affected landowners to discuss their situations with us personally to ensure they have a clear understanding of this process."
McKays to Peka Peka expressway: The Environmental Protection Authority received 676 submissions to the consent application for the proposed McKays Crossing to Peka Peka section of the Kapiti expressway.
A further 51 submissions were received late and were being considered for acceptance.
A board of inquiry hearing will begin on November 12 and a final decision will be made by April 12, 2013.
Construction could start next year.
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