Local heritage groups have been hit with a court order to pay for the Masonic Hotel owner’s defence of the proposed apartment development.
The Environment Court has said it is fair and reasonable for the Masonic Friendly Society and Devonport Heritage to each pay $22,350 to Redback Developments, the property vehicle for the Thwaites family. The Historic Places Trust, another party in the appeal case, must pay $14,900. The total award is a quarter of the $238,571 Redback sought to cover its legal expenses.
In a reserved decision, Judge Craig Thompson said one of the three court members, commissioner Heather McConachy, wanted no costs ordered. But all court members agreed with Redback’s complaint about tactics of deliberate delay and obfuscation. “We are very conscious that both societies are comprised of people who are sincere in their beliefs and intentions,” said the judge, noting the case had already cost them about $40,000 plus a further $20,000 from the legal assistance fund managed by the Ministry for the Environment.
However, there has been concern that the tactics employed by the groups’ legal counsel may have been counter-productive. During the hearing, the counsel made a full-scale assault on earlier district plan decision, at one point trying to stop Judge Thompson from sitting on the Environment Court to hear the appeal. This more aggressive approach is believed to be at least partly responsible for there being little opportunity or desire expressed by other parties to find a negotiated solution.
Devonport Heritage spokeswoman Margot McRae said; “It’s a setback for community groups around the country when such punishing costs can be awarded against not-for-profit societies.”
However, it is unlikely either organisation or its members will end up paying the awards; both organisations have very little funds remaining, and individual members cannot be held personally accountable for the costs.
The Bottom Line
Devonport Heritage: $22,350
Masonic Friendly Society: $22,350.
Historic Places Trust: $14,900
Redback Develop has incurred a total of $238,571 legal and expert witness costs. The costs awarded to them represent 25% of their total outgoings.