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High Court dismisses DC Policy challenge on all counts

A legal challenge to Hamilton City Council’s development contributions policy has been comprehensively dismissed.

Justice Ian Gault announced his decision on Friday, after a three-day hearing in the High Court in Hamilton in April.

Development contributions (DCs) allow councils to recover some of the costs of infrastructure like roads, water pipes and other community facilities from developers. Where it is determined a specific development contributed to the infrastructure cost, the Policy determines how these costs are shared.

A group of 19 Hamilton developers sought a judicial review of the Council’s DC Policy, raising 17 claims. Justice Gault found in favour of the Council on all 17 claims and dismissed the application for judicial review.

Barrister Lachlan Muldowney, who was co-counsel in the hearing, said the decision validates the Council’s approach to the formulation and application of its development contributions policy.

“More generally, it also provides helpful clarity on a range of important issues in this area of local government funding and financing,” he said.

Hamilton City Council Chief Executive Richard Briggs said Friday’s decision should put an end to any claims Council’s DC Policy was flawed.

“We’re considered leaders in this area at a national level. Funding growth is complex, and it’s even more complex ensuring we fairly share the costs of growth between developers and general rates.

“This decision means our whole community can have confidence in our processes and the underlying structures which support our DC Policy. It also provides developers with certainty that we are balancing their interests as well.

“That clarity of position means we can continue to build relationships with the development community as our city grows.”

Mr Briggs said the court process over the past 12 months placed additional demands on staff and resources while Council was developing its current Long-Term Plan, delivering its largest-ever capital works programme and responding to the challenges of Covid-19.

“The judgment is satisfying but confirming the legality of our policy and our systems has cost around $700,000. We are taking advice on our ability to seek costs on behalf of our ratepayers,” Mr Briggs said.

Mayor Paula Southgate said she is pleased the case has been concluded.

“Hamilton’s future success is dependent on managing growth well. The economic, social and cultural benefits of a growing city are best achieved through really clear planning and long-term partnerships between Council, its community and its business partners.

“Hamilton has some visionary and committed developers who play a huge role in building a city we can all be proud of. Our role as Council is to have systems in place that provide clarity and certainty to all involved and this decision confirms that.”

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