Costs of dispute hit $56k

A breakdown in legal costs for an ongoing dispute over a Waimate building has revealed a $56,840 bill for ratepayers.

The case has cost $54,862 plus $1978 in disbursements in just over a year.

Details of the legal costs appear in a report by Waimate District Council chief executive Tony Alden to a council meeting today.

The dispute dates back nearly two years and resulted in the council taking civil action against Keith Williams and his company, Glenkeith Industries.

The council went to court over building permit work on a garage wall but the judge declined to hear the case as the chief executive did not have the delegated authority to lay charges.

Mr Williams is now seeking costs from the council, which could push the bill as high as $150,000 if the council loses.

In his report, Mr Alden quotes the council's lawyers as saying the complexity of the case had been at the higher level for regulatory prosecutions, and the allegations made on behalf of Mr Williams called for independent expert evidence.

About 25 per cent of the bill had been spent in responding to Mr Williams' legal advisers' "repeated requests for information of various kinds and sundry legal debates peripheral to the main building safety issues".

The council's lawyers said one of the unusual aspects of the case had been the efforts of the council to explore ways of dealing with the safety and compliance issues that had been identified.

That included several meetings between legal representatives and council staff, the mayor and councillors.

An arrangement was devised in which a technical expert on behalf of Mr Williams met with the council's building control staff to mediate compliance solutions "all to no avail".

"In short, a substantial amount of money has been spent examining alternatives that might be used by the council short of proceeding with the prosecution," the lawyers said.

"Had the council taken an intransigent position and simply instructed us to proceed to court with all speed and not engage in exploring alternatives, then we would have expected the cost to be reduced by about $15,000.

"This is the kind of case in which each party's independent experts might be expected to agree on technical matters and thus save the parties a good deal of time and cost; sadly the council's technical expert advisers have had no professional counterparts with whom they could engage."

A case has since been lodged with the Department of Housing and Building with the decision binding on both parties. The cost of this determination is $287.

The Timaru Herald