Council rebuked by court

Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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A Timaru man has won a long-running Environment Court battle over a neighbour's proposed property development.

Environment Court Judge John Hassan has ruled the Pilcher Family Trust's application to build a four-bedroom house on their land was not a permitted activity under the Timaru District Plan.

The Timaru District Council had granted the trust consent for the activity.

The ruling could have implications for the council's upcoming review district plan, as the judge criticised the current plan's "loose" wording.

Les Rawlings, who launched the appeal, said he was vindicated.

"I'm sick of this. The council keep disobeying their own rules through their own stupidity and ignorance. I've stuck to my guns where others didn't have the money or guts to do so," he said.

"This is a win for those who want to keep the rural lifestyle and stop rampant subdivision."

Council regulatory services manager Chris English said the judge's ruling was useful.

"There are some definitions and rules that we will need to take a second look at as we review our district plan. Rural land use has changed a lot in the last decade," Mr English said.

Trust spokesman Craig Pilcher was disappointed with the finding.

"The council told us we could go ahead [with the building], but they appear not to understand their own rules," he said.

Judge Hassan's summary reveals the council granted approval for the building consent, but it "put the Pilchers on notice that it was only a permitted activity for as long as it was occupied by a dependent relative".

"The Pilchers have since changed their intentions. Now Craig and Jill Pilcher would live in the new dwelling, and their existing home [on the property] would be used as an accommodation for three dependent relatives - their son, daughter and Mrs Pilcher's 79-year-old mother," Judge Hassan said.

He queried whether the new property remained an "accommodation for a dependent relative" if Mr and Mrs Pilcher decided to move into it.

"Five loose words in a rule have engendered many more words in this round of inter-neighbour conflict. As plan users, and property owners, they deserve better," Judge Hassan said.

"It is reasonable to assume the council would have been mindful of the consequences for future subdivision when it drafted the rules [of the district plan]."

He said the trust could still apply for a consent to build. However, Mr Pilcher said it was "unlikely" to do so.

Costs have been reserved. Mr Rawlings said he spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on the appeals, while Mr English was unsure of the council's costs.

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This is not the first time Mr Rawlings has taken the Pilcher trust and the council to the Environment Court.

Last year, he appealed against an independent commissioner's decision allowing the trust to subdivide a four-hectare lot off Gleniti Rd into two lots.

The Environment Court upheld Mr Rawlings' appeal, because the council's district plan allows rural lots of only 10ha, unless a title was issued before 1988.

- The Timaru Herald

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