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Local council ordered to pay costs!

Local council ordered to pay costs!

Local council ordered to pay costs!

Tuesday 15 June, 2021

It is rare for the Environment Court to awards costs against a council, particularly when it has been acting in its regulatory role. However, the Court recently held that it was just and fair to award costs against Gisborne District Council because of missteps in the way it had approached an appeal to its review of the Gisborne Pistol Club’s resource consent conditions.

Following noise complaints, the Council had reviewed the conditions but declined to impose a noise limit.  Local residents appealed the Council’s decision but the Council maintained on appeal that no noise limit should be imposed on the gun club’s conditions. The Environment Court disagreed with the Council and found the adverse effects of the gun club’s activity were “highly” significant on the receiving environment, so the local residents were successful and sought costs.

The Court found costs could be awarded against the Council because of its approach to the appeal. The first misstep was running a “no noise limits” case against the advice of the Council’s own noise expert, who advised that the gun club’s noise was unreasonable and recommended that a noise limit be imposed. The Court said the Council had ignored its duties to prescribe noise limits and focused too much on the gun club’s viability, when it should have realised this consideration was outweighed by the adverse effects on the receiving environment.

The Council had also:

  • granted the gun club a resource consent in the rural residential environment which provided for development;
  • failed to impose a noise limit in the original conditions of the Club’s resource consent;
  • failed to fulfil its territorial authority functionsenvi when granting resource consent for subdivision in the surrounding area;
  • failed to recognise the potential for reverse sensitivity effects;
  • granted a renewal of lease to the Club after granting resource consent for subdivisions on adjacent land; and
  • contributed to ongoing delay and adverse effects on the local residents by putting its review of the gun club’s conditions on hold for three years whilst the gun club searched for alternative premises.

The Court accepted that the Council had acted diligently by initiating the review and delegating its decision-making powers to consultants and independent commissioners. The Council had also called the noise witness and been accommodative in facilitating mediation between the parties, however,  this was insufficient to avoid a costs award, as the Council was found to be blameworthy in its pursuit of an unreasonable case.

The Council was ordered to pay to the local residents $16,000 in costs, which was about one third of the total costs incurred by the successful parties.

When defending an appeal, councils need to take care that their approach to the appeal and their dealings as both a consenting authority and landowner in related matters are reasonable and take account of all relevant duties. If councils’ processes are not reasonable, they risk having costs awarded against them. If you have any concerns, our Local Government experts can help.


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