Forced land sales 'breach fundamental rights'

COMPO BATTLE: Cera’s land acquisition programme has left some central city landowners  with no choice but to sell to the Crown for what they claim are unfair values.
COMPO BATTLE: Cera’s land acquisition programme has left some central city landowners with no choice but to sell to the Crown for what they claim are unfair values.

Forced Government land-takes in central Christchurch have resulted in major breaches to "fundamental property ownership rights", a Wellington lawyer says.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's (Cera) controversial land acquisition programme has left some central city landowners unable to use their sites for more than two years and with no choice but to sell to the Crown for what they claim are unfair values.

The owners of 11 properties compulsorily taken by the Crown have not received a cent in compensation.

Christchurch landowner Gordon Chamberlain has held out on willingly selling to the Crown with a view to seek fair compensation through a tribunal hearing. His case will likely end up in court and, depending on the outcome, many others could follow.

Phil Shannon, from Wellington law firm Johnston Lawrence, has represented the landowners of about 20 sites in Christchurch's CBD and believed the acquisition process could be deemed unlawful down the track.

Land values had been "downplayed" by the Crown from the beginning and the overall process was arguably an "unlawful interference with a fundamental common-law right to property ownership".

Cera should have loosened the purse strings to pay people at "free market rates" to avoid the potential cost of legal challenges, he said.

Shannon lodged an Official Information Act request seeking the valuation reports of his clients' sites but Cera refused to release them, citing commercial sensitivity and prejudice to negotiations. A complaint to the Ombudsman found Cera should have released the reports.

Information provided by Cera showed as of last month 19 properties had been compulsorily acquired using extraordinary earthquake powers but settlement for 11 was outstanding.

A Cera spokeswoman said for compensation to occur a claim must be submitted or "an agreed position on the compensation payable must be reached with the Crown's agent". Claims would be heard by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Eight owners had settled an agreed position on compensation and two had lodged formal compensation claims.

Ernest Duval, central city landowner, investor and City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core) founder, said some owners had allowed the compulsory acquisition to happen because they had been "universally unsatisfied with the offer made by the Crown".

"There was no formal process to resolve valuation differences other than negotiation on a take-it-or-leave-it basis," he said.

Landowners affected by the blueprint and anchor project designation had not been able to use their sites since the plan's release in July 2012 but had continued to pay rates, mortgage interest payments and insurance premiums, Duvall said.

The Press