Man can sue Crown for being negligent neighbour as cliff rockfall continues

Steven Young, pictured in 2012, wants the Crown to take action to prevent more rockfalls on his land.
KIRK HARGREAVES/Stuff
Steven Young, pictured in 2012, wants the Crown to take action to prevent more rockfalls on his land.

A man with rocks and debris falling from unstable cliffs onto his property has been given the go-ahead to sue the Crown as a negligent neighbour.

Steven Young claims red-zoned cliffs next to his Redcliffs property are a safety hazard, with both natural movement and the demolition of clifftop homes above triggering subsidence.  

The Crown does not dispute his claim, but says the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act protects it from being sued over the effects of its actions under that law, such as red zoning.

This Google maps view shows rockfalls from Crown-owned land piled deep at the back of Young's Redcliffs' property.
This Google maps view shows rockfalls from Crown-owned land piled deep at the back of Young's Redcliffs' property.

Young wants the Crown made to remove existing fallen debris and rocks and take action to stop further falls or collapses, or put in safety measures.

Alternatively, he would like it to pay him damages.

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Haggling delays quake claims

Young among boulders at the back of his property in 2011 after the February earthquake.
Ross Giblin/Stuff
Young among boulders at the back of his property in 2011 after the February earthquake.

In a preliminary High Court judgment, Justice Cameron Mander dismissed the Crown's claim that it has complete immunity from legal action.

This clears the way for Young's case to proceed.

Young's property is a large site on which he built five homes and has plans to subdivide. His land sits alongside the back of the original site of Redcliffs School, which also suffered rockfall and is being rebuilt nearby.

A giant boulder on the property in 2012.
KIRK HARGREAVES/Stuff
A giant boulder on the property in 2012.

The Canterbury earthquakes left large amounts of rock and rubble on Young's property, damaging his houses and land. The property was covered by insurance with Vero.

In 2013 and 2015 he rejected red zone offers for his property as he did not believe he was offered fair value for it.

His legal case is that the Crown has breached its duty of care as a neighbour, as its lack of action is causing a nuisance and interfering with his enjoyment of his land.

By law, property owners have the right to enjoy their land without neighbours disturbing or annoying them, and neighbouring owners can be held liable if that happens.

The Regeneration Act states the Crown cannot be held liable for the effects of its actions taken under the Act, but this protection does not cover acts of bad faith or gross negligence.

Justice Mander said in his judgment that the problems on Young's property were caused by the earthquakes, not the Crown's actions of red-zoning land.

He said the Crown could not ignore Young's right to enjoyment of his property, pass on the cost of remediating his land to him, or expunge the responsibilities of previous owners of the Crown land.

The Crown had not created the nuisance to Young, but by buying the neighbouring land had assumed responsibility for it, he said.

"I do not consider the policy behind the legislation ... to be read in a way that would effectively result in the Crown being immunised from its obligations as a landowner," the judge said.

Stuff