Developer to fight equity loss in court

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2013

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A Christchurch red-zoner facing a million-dollar equity loss from a Crown compensation deal for his condemned land will fight the Government in court.

John Fowler, who owns 11 vacant sites in the red-zoned Waimakariri River mouth suburb of Brooklands, is seeking a judicial review of the Crown offer to buy his land, claiming it is unfair and invalid.

Red-zoned residential land that cannot be economically repaired is subject to a Crown offer to buy it at the 2007 rateable value (RV).

The initial offer was linked to a property's insurance policy, but vacant land cannot be insured, meaning owners were ineligible for Earthquake Commission cover and government compensation.

The Government has offered Fowler, and other ineligible red-zoners such as commercial land owners, a 50 per cent land RV payout.

In papers filed to the High Court, Fowler's lawyer, Stephen Rennie, labelled the offer "unlawful and invalid".

Roger Sutton, as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), was under "a public duty to act consistently [including an] obligation to provide equal treatment to those equally placed", he said.

"There is no rational basis to treat owners of vacant land different to owners of dwelling land."

In correspondence with Sutton, Rennie highlighted preliminary advice from Cera to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee which said the Crown should extend the 100 per cent RV offer to vacant land owners in the red zone.

That Cera document did not discuss reduced RV offers.

"The reasoning of Cera in its initial assessment was correct and consistent with legal principle. The current offer is wholly unfair," Rennie said.

Fowler started the 31-section Seafield Lagoon development in 2007, and still owned 11 vacant sites, worth nearly $2m under their 2007 RVs.

Faced with losing half that equity, he said he had "no other option" but a legal challenge.

"With the number of sections I've got involved, I've taken a big enough hit in the global financial crisis. Accepting the (full) RV would be trying to move on with life, but half, it's just criminal. People say developers ‘can ride it out', but I can't ride it out."

Other vacant-land owners were unhappy too, Fowler said, and were also planning legal action. "We're not going to bow to this."

A spokesman for Brownlee said it would be inappropriate to comment while it was before the courts.

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- The Press

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