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Charles William Williams and others v Auckland Council

Charles William Williams and others v Auckland Council


This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It does not comprise part of the reasons for that judgment. The full judgment with reasons is the only authoritative document. The full text of the judgment and reasons can be found at Judicial Decisions of Public Interest:


The Court of Appeal (Justice Harrison, Justice French and Justice Mallon) has dismissed an appeal by descendants of owners of over 70 hectares of waterfront land at Te Atatu, West Auckland. The land was taken by Auckland Council’s predecessor, the Auckland Harbour Board, in the 1950s to develop a port at Te Atatu. It is now the site of residential housing, a public park, and reserve areas, with a value of up to $70 million.

The owners asked the Court to declare that the Council had to offer the land for sale at 1980s prices back to the owners or their descendants under the Public Works Act 1981, because by the early 1980s the land was no longer going to be used for a port or any other public work.

The Court of Appeal decided the Board did have a duty to offer the land back to four of the seven descendants, because it had acquired the land for a public work in the first place, and by 1982 still held but no longer required the land for any public work. The descendants did not need to prove the Board took their land compulsorily, although the Court said a notice issued by the Board made it clear early on to all the owners that they had to sell their land.

The Court also decided the Council was not able to rely on its 1996 decision to use the exceptions in the Public Works Act. That exception had to be used in a timely way, or else would be lost, meaning that the land had to be offered back.

Auckland Council argued that an Act of Parliament passed in 1983 meant the Council no longer had a duty to offer the land back. But the Court said the Public Works Act was about sale of land while the 1983 Act related only to leases and licences: it did not end the Council’s responsibility to offer the land back to the descendants.

However, the Court decided not to declare that the Council had to offer the land back to the descendants. The descendants had waited too long before bringing their claim, with the consequence that the Council has developed the Te Atatu land into residential housing and a public park that was made possible by levying special rates from the community. The descendants were also not particularly attached to the land. Under agreements they had made with a company that would fund and run this case, the descendants would not keep the land. It would go to the litigation funding company, giving it a windfall because of the substantial difference between the value of the land in the 1980s and its value today.


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