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Crown Digs In Over Army Land Sale

By Daniel Adams

The Crown will appeal a High Court decision ordering it to offer
more than two-thirds of the former Papakura military camp to its original owners at 1993 prices.

The move prolongs an eight-year battle that has already cost the cash-squeezed New Zealand Defence Force $1.6 million.

The camp land was taken from the McLennan family just prior to the Second World War. They had first settled on the south Auckland block more than ninety years previously.

The army abandoned the camp in 1992. Under the Public Works Act the Crown must offer previous owners first purchase option on land it no longer needs.

Since 1993 five offers have been made for the Papakura camp land, each at an increased price. The McLennan family took the matter to the High Court last year, claiming the Crown had severely mishandled the offer back process.

Land Information New Zealand – the former lands and survey department - is responsible for managing the disposal of surplus Crown land taken under the Act. The Attorney General lodged the appeal on instruction from LINZ.

Hunua’s National MP, Warren Kyd has questioned the department’s motives. He has previously criticised its handling of the process and says LINZ is now trying to cover up its mistakes.

“They’ve indicated they’re prepared to go to the Privy Council if necessary. They’ve lost every inch of the way, it’s embarrassing for them and it’s now all or nothing,” he told Scoop.

The McLennan family have responded to the Crown decision by lodging a cross appeal seeking offer-back rights on the remaining parts of the camp, which the December 1999 decision had exempted.

Mr Kyd says if the matter is found in the family’s favour the Crown could be forced to offer back all of the camp land in dispute. He has asked to meet with defence minister Mark Burton over the appeal decision.

Maintaining the 60 year-old camp costs the Defence Force $400,000 annually, and it has spent another $600,000 on legal and other expenses during the ownership battle. Defence Force officials could not provide an estimate of the latest appeal’s likely cost.

During last year’s High Court case the Crown argued it needed to maintain ownership over part of the camp to protect an SAS training facility.

High-ranking army officers told the court the Defence Force needed to retain an area within 200 metres of the bunker in case CS gas escaped during training.

The riot control agent was released “from time to time” according to the
officer’s affidavits. Their claim was made despite the fact that a primary school within 50 metres of the test bunker had never been informed of a gas release.

The army has never invoked a clause in its lease agreement allowing the school sufficient notice to vacate when the gas is released.

Crown Property Contracts, the division of LINZ that handles disposal of Crown property, is responsible for 3.2 million hectares of public land worth up to $800 million.

In the last financial year it oversaw Crown property sales worth $23 million.


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