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High Court rules in favour of QEII National Trust

Media release

27 February 2014

High Court rules in favour of QEII National Trust

A High Court judge yesterday ruled in favour of the QEII National Trust in a case that took Canterbury farmer R H Wobben of Netherland Holdings Limited to court for breaching an interim injunction order. The order was issued to prevent him causing ongoing damage to covenants on his property.

The purpose of the injunction was to “hold the fort” while the Trust progressed its claim to restore woodland covenants that Mr Wobben extensively damaged early in 2013 by clearing large areas.

The Trust was forced to apply for the interim injunction order after Netherland Holdings Limited failed to adhere to a written agreement to stop further damaging activity in the covenants while restoration steps were being agreed. It subsequently lodged an application with the High Court after it obtained clear evidence that Mr Wobben was ignoring the injunction conditions.

Netherlands Holdings Limited’s actions have severely damaged one of the last remaining pockets of undisturbed kanuka woodlands on the Canterbury Plains. Kanuka woodlands are only found in semi-arid, low nutrient environments such as the Canterbury Plains. Due to pastoral development, 99.7% of this type of woodland ecosystem has been lost here.

The primary objective of the Trust’s action is to defend the covenant agreement and secure the restoration of the rare woodland remnant.

The Trust was able to prove that Mr Wobben was operating irrigation equipment in the covenant and had applied fertilizer to parts of it. Both actions are very detrimental to the natural conditions required for the restoration and regeneration of the damaged covenants and directly violated the court injunction.

Justice Rachel Dunningham found that the defendant was in contempt of the Court by “repeated and deliberate breaches of the order”.
“I have no doubt that this was conduct which was wilful, reckless or contumacious on the part of the defendants.

“Mr Wobben should be in no doubt that imprisonment is an available option to punish a wilful or reckless disobedience of a Court order,” Justice Dunningham said.
Justice Dunningham recognised that the Trust’s action was taken only after its strenuous efforts to come to an agreement with the landowner to halt damaging activity and reinstate the covenants had failed.

“It is an aggravating feature of this case that the Trust has had to escalate its response to the alleged breaches of the ... covenants, from informal advice, to formal undertakings and then to seeking interim orders from the Court,” she said.

Trust Chair James Guild said the interim case has reinforced the Trust’s position as the perpetual trustee and defender of open space covenant agreements.

“While we are still to have our day in court for the original covenant breaches, this interim case shows that the measures we have had to take to defend the covenant are legally justified, and breaches of court injunctions issued on our behalf are taken seriously and can have serious consequences.
“We look forward to the day when work to restore this rare woodland ecosystem can start in earnest,” Mr Guild said.

The case seeking full restoration of the covenanted areas is still to be heard in the High Court later this year.



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