The old adage that an Englishman’s home is his castle would certainly not appear to operate in the vernacular of Auckland Transport(AT). On 19 October 2011, certain property owners in Te Atatu South received Access Agreement forms from AT asking them to give access to their land for a period of 24 months to allow entry and re-entry on their land with machinery, vehicles and equipment. The princely sum offered in return for this consideration was 10c. Many homeowners despatched the document to its rightful place – the wastepaper basket. The document also contained a statement “Auckland Transport and its agents will only enter the land after giving 48 hours notice of its intention to do so and with the approval of the property owner or his/her representative.”Since that date a number of unannounced visits have been made to properties without the courtesy of a letter, an email, a phone call or even a simple knock on the door,let alone 48 hours notice.
On 20 September 2011 owners of 109 properties in Te Atatu South received notices saying parts of their properties had been identified as necessary for road widening. The notice stated a high level of traffic flow was experienced on Te Atatu and Edmonton Roads and the project would improve traffic flow and provide for increases in general and heavy traffic flow. It stated the project had been approved by Waitakere City Council(WCC) in 2009. It also gave reference to designation in the WCC District Plan. It also referred to the Public Works Act.
For most of the affected property owners, 20 September 2011 was the first time they had been made aware of the road widening. They were invited to attend a Drop-in-day on 1 October 2011 but there was little opportunity for informed discussion. The Public consultation some 5 weeks later on 5 November consisted of a Public Open Day at which members of the public were invited to fill in a feed back form. Initial requests to view the submissions were declined for “privacy reasons” and on a second attempt declined by Roger Wilson from AT on the grounds the request was “frivolous.”
In a report to the Infrastructure and Works committee for WCC on 3 February 2010 by Hussam Abdul-Rassol, Manager, Transport Services, under the heading “Te Atatu Road,Te Atatu South- Road Corridor Project” it was stated “A number of workshops were held in 2008 to develop the concept design.” It also stated “Public consultation will need to take various forms to ensure the public is fully informed of the Te Atatu Road corridor project.”
What affected property owners were not told on 20 September 2011 was that 40% of the intended acquisitions were outside the designations in the District Plan.
Owena Schuster from the Key Relationships Department of AT stated in December 2011 that it had been first decided that sections of land would be required beyond those designated in the District Plan, in the middle of 2011. Yet the Agenda for the Infrastructure and Works committee of WCC on 3 February 2010 stated “It is noted that currently the Waitakere District Plan has a 2.88 metre designation along both sides of the corridor between Edmonton Road and the motorway interchange. This will need to be uplifted and replaced to reflect the current concept design as it requires a wider designation up to 7 metres.”
When I asked Roger Wilson, AT, why this had not been done he said merely AT had taken a different view from WCC.
When I pressed Roger Blakeley, Chief Planning Officer, Auckland Council, on the matter, pointing out that a home-owner wanting to make changes to his own property, would be obliged to apply for a change of designation which would then have to go out for public consultation, he initially commented “On 1 November 2010, all roading designations were transferred to Auckland Transport. You are correct that the former Waitakere City Council Infrastructure and Works Committee received a report on 3 February 2010, where the possibility of uplifting the existing designation and replacing it with another was included in the text of the report. This did not however translate into a resolution of the Committee directing that Council to undertake the uplifting and replacement of the designation. Without such direction from the Infrastructure and Works Committee, Auckland Transport does not have any obligation to uplift the existing designation or alter it.”
I pressed him further on the matter and asked him if it rested comfortably with AC that AT had made no application for a change in designation. His reply was “It is an Auckland Transport decision whether they choose to use the designation process to acquire land for roading projects. In this instance it is clear that Auckland Transport are using the option of direct negotiation with affected property owners instead of amending the designation.”
Because of being outside the designation in the District Plan, most of these properties will have to be purchased by direct negotiation.
FAIR MARKET VALUE
In the notice dated 20 September 2011, it stated “Auckland Transport will pay a fair market value for the land it acquires and will reimburse your reasonable legal and valuation costs associated with the acquisition.” Initial offers coming in have ranged from $230 per square metre to $1800 per square metre. The pamphlet accompanying the notice on 20 September 2011 did little to explain the difference between Section 17 and Section 18 of the Public Works Act.
Put simply Section 17 describes an open-market situation.
Section 18 describes compulsory acquisition.
At a meeting of TPOG (Te Atatu Property Owners Group) on 21 February 2012, Linda Holdaway for Auckland Council Properties Limited(ACPL) indicated it was their wish to purchase all properties under Section 17.
An open market situation is that of willing seller/willing buyer.
Some of the initial offers coming in are not much more than half of the value of land being sought when one considers a value proportionate to the current land value on which rates are being paid. This takes no account of being closer to the road, closer to noise, loss of off-street parking, reduced ability to develop in future etc.
In some cases, such as my own, accessibility to garages will be severely hampered. Owners will need to be pro-active in this matter. I first drew attention to my own plight in September 2011, had a site visit on 11 October 2011, and then despite continual requests, eventually had to resort to a LGOIMA request to get a copy of the site visit some four and a half months later in February 2012. Meanwhile Mohammed Alsakini, Senior Engineer, AT advised “We expect that we will be able to present indicative design options for your property access by 16 December 2011.”
8 December 2011 I rang Stuart Penfold and was told they did not expect to make any further visits within the next month. The next visit from AT was 14 February 2012.
The whole process is time-consuming and nerve-racking. Initially, those of us who attended the meeting on 1 October 2011 were given a time-line that has since proven to be quite inaccurate and unreliable.
On 27 October 2011 I was informed by Michael Riley, Property Specialist, AT “Formal negotiations are planned to commence in February 2012.”
“The time taken for negotiation does largely depend on the property owner’s preparedness to negotiate in good faith.”
“ACPL will assume the role of negotiator after the Local Board has approved the final design.”
On 17 November 2011 I was told I could expect “indicative design options” by 16 December 2011.
On 21 November 2011 I was told ACPL would engage landowners in informal negotiation prior to commencing the formal process.
On 26 January 2012 Auckland Council Property Limited(ACPL) advised property owners in writing it wished to enter into negotiations for purchase of the designated land.
On 2 February 2012 there was a second site visit to my property.
On 14 February 2012, the third site visit to my property, I asked if we were in informal or formal negotiation. I was told informal.
On 16 May 2012, the fourth site visit to my property discussion took place about building a new garage for me.
On 27 June 2012 I received a “mitigation package” for my garage but no mention of any negotiation to purchase my land.
Many TPOG members who have rung AT during normal business hours were disappointed not to be able to speak to any one and in a number of cases calls have not been returned . I myself have been told to direct all enquiries to Roger Wilson or Owena Schuster. On asking Owena who takes responsibility for information provided, I was told “Auckland Transport as an entity takes responsibility for the external communications of the organisation – any response you get is from the organization, and does not reflect the personal views of any individual.” How convenient!
On 4 November 2011 Sharon Hunter, AT spokeswoman said there would be “little or no impact” on residents like Osborne. After 4 site visits to date and no sign of an offer yet, she couldn’t have been closely in touch with reality.
In a number of cases several words have been used where one or two would have done, to such an extent that the recipients are left wondering if the constructors of the messages actually understood what they themselves were saying. In other cases the statements are simply opaque.
e.g. “The project’s benefits will improve traffic flow and ensure that the road can successfully accommodate transport options.”
“AT will pay a fair market value.”
“Auckland Council has authority to acquire land under the Act and to negotiate compensation for that land.”
“Landowners are entitled to full compensation.”
“indicative design options”
Auckland Council(AC), Auckland Transport(AT) and Auckland Council Properties Limited(ACPL) have had prior knowledge of the road widening whereas most property owners and tenants have not. It is hardly an open market negotiation situation. Tenants of the shops in Edmonton Road will be hard-pressed to argue for “fair” compensation and this is somewhat reminiscent of the barber in New Lynn, who having been in business for many years, eventually went to the Western Leader to publicise his plight before reaching an agreeable settlement.
The Henderson-Massey Local Board is supposed to be the channel of advocacy for its local community. They have been cut out of the action with no input into this project whatsoever. Financial information provided to them has been a bare minimum, as indeed it has been for Auckland Councillors.
Property owners have to contend with dealing with three separate entities –AC, AT and ACPL. ACPL was engaged by AT to conduct property negotiations on its behalf. AT is itself a subsidiary of AC known as a Council Controlled Organisation (CCO), funded by ratepayers. As if the process were not complicated enough to the ordinary property owner, the land is paid for by AC after ACPL has negotiated a price on behalf of AT. Some initial offers coming in to TPOG members are parsimonious and offers range from $230 per square metre to $1800 per square metre. There is a huge range! On top of that, in some cases TPOG members have been asked to get a quote for valuation fees before engaging a valuer. On disclosure of the fees the suggestion has been made that only “reasonable” fees may be paid not “actual” fees.
Having had difficulty in getting lucid answers to some of my questions about the project, I put in a complaint to Council. After some somewhat dismissive treatment I lodged a complaint with the Ombudsmen on 5 March 2012. Some 4 months later I was advised by Richard Fisher, Assistant Ombudsman they are investigating:
- AT –my complaint re having to make a LGOIMA request to get a copy of my site visit from 11 October 2012
- AC –my complaint re answers from its Chief Planning Officer.
PUBLIC WORKS ACT
Much more comprehensive information on the PWA than provided by AT can be found on the Land Information New Zealand website.
QUANDARY FOR OWNERS
Confronted with a situation of losing a portion of your property for a cause you don’t believe in, how do you ensure you get a fair settlement?
You rely on the good faith of the party wanting it.
To date, I have not been impressed with the efficiency or accountability of the other party.
I am not aware of anyone who believes this project will improve traffic flow. We are starting with 4 vehicle lanes. We are finishing with 4 vehicle lanes. The anticipated increase in vehicles is from 37,000 per day now to 48,000 in ten years. Special lanes to accommodate an extra 50 cyclists per day in ten years is ridiculous. Why not continue the cycleway alongside the North Western motorway as already operates from Great North Road to Te Atatu Rd? Many property owners will be inconvenienced for a considerable period of time while construction takes place for a project they don’t believe in.
11 October 2011 Stuart Penfold from MWH visited my property. The possibility of constructing a separate garage was discussed.
2 February 2012 Linda Holdaway and Grant Sextone from AT visited my property. They had not seen a site report from the visit on 11 October.
14 February 2012 Linda Holdaway (AT) and Mohammed Alsakini, Project Engineer, AT visited my property. Mohammed showed me a series of drawings to show how a skilful driver could manoeuvre a Mini out of my existing garage and go onto Te Atatu Rd in a forward direction. I said it was not feasible, offered him the keys to my Holden and asked him to demonstrate. He declined to do so. It was agreed a garqge would be considered.
16 May 2012 Linda Holdaway, another AT rep and Mohammed Alsakini met me. Initially a “garage or carport” was suggested but I reminded them we had talked about a “garage” at our last meeting. It was back to the drawing board again.
Te Atatu Property Owners Group was formed by concerned property owners.
15 November 2011 First Public Meeting. A series of questions were to go from the meeting to Mark Ford, Chairman of the Board of AT as well as a request to view the Public submissions on the project.
1 December 2011 A deputation of 20 members of TPOG attended the Henderson-Massey Local Board meeting. Gary Osborne (Chairman) and Anne Langford (Secretary) addressed the Board on behalf of TPOG.
13 December 2011 Owena Schuster, AT, invited me to a meeting with Roger Wilson to address TPOG’s concerns.
15 December 2011 Gary Osborne and Anne Langford met Owena Schuster and Roger Wilson. There was confusion in that Roger claimed consultation on the project was ongoing but Owena dispelled that and said it was closed.
21 February 2012 Second Public Meeting. At this meeting an ACPL representative said they could negotiate for two years under Section 17 of the Public Works Act. It was intended to have all negotiations completed within 18 months. They said it was up to owners to accept the compensation package or engage a valuer. Construction was not expected to begin until February 2014.
Some TPOG members have experienced difficulty in contacting AT staff and in getting timely responses to phone calls or correspondence.
Changes in mind over what was said on site or promises such as “we can change that” when it is realised acquisitions would render some properties non-compliant with Council regulations are unsatisfactory.
In my own case I was asked on site if I would be prepared to sell my entire property. I said it was not a preferred option. Next day I received an email from Linda Holdaway saying “An offer to buy the property outright was declined by you.”
I rang her to put her straight, pointing out that as a practising real estate agent of some 14 years experience I had a pretty good idea what constituted an offer by now and that was not an offer.
I had also experienced discussions about a garage changing over 4 months to skilful driving manoeuvres, then two weeks later back to a garage, then 3 months later to a “carport or garage”. One has to be very careful and insist on seeing a lawyer before signing anything.
Quite frankly some of the inane answers and lengthy treatises I have received in response to quite innocuous questions have amounted to no more than waffle. It seems sometimes extreme lengths are gone to, in order to avoid providing clear unambiguous answers.
My poor old Fuji Xerox has been very busy printing tomes of material on the Public Works Act which I now claim to know a little bit about.
When I purchased my property in 1987 I commissioned a Valuation Report. It is interesting to note under Zoning it states: “In terms of the operative District Town Planning Scheme for Waitemata City, land is zoned ‘Residential 2”.
It also notes “Bulk and location controls call for 6.0 metre front yards, 1.2 metre side and rear yards, a maximum building height of 8.0 metres and a maximum building coverage of 35%”.
How times change. Today front yards of 3 metres are permissible but I understand some of the proposed acquisitions will take front yards to less than 3 metres. Hopefully ACPL have done their homework.
In an endeavour to bring myself up to speed with the PWA I have had to be particularly zealous. Information regarding this particular project for Councillors, Local Board members and Ratepayers is scant. That’s not good enough for a project with a budget of $27.689million. I have been particularly proactive, alerting AT to problems with my garage in September 2011. Now, ten months later I have yet to receive an initial offer.
Where is the accountability and transparency in all this?
Minimal information is available, the public consultation was a farce.
I totally agree with the stance adopted by Councillor Casey over the V8 Super Car decisions. I hope her complaint to the Auditor-General bears fruit.
Refusal to disclose financial information to Councillors, Local Board members and to Ratepayers who fund everything is just not acceptable in a modern democracy.