AT Land Acquisition Communications

 

In September 2011, more than 100 property owners in Te Atatu South received the shock news that their properties or parts thereof, had been identified as necessary for road widening. As none of us had any previous experience with the Public Works Act, we set up a group known as the Te Atatu Property Owners Group (TPOG) for the express purpose of information sharing and moral support.

 

On 1 November 2012, I put 9 questions to the Henderson-Massey Local Board regarding the project and the adequacy of information provided to the Local Board.

Full details of my speech can be found on a previous post on this blog site entitled

“Te Atatu Land Acquisitions”.

 

On 2 November 2012, Michael Riley, Property Specialist, AT, wrote the following gratuitous letter to me

“I am writing to advise you of a recent telephone conversation between Auckland Council Property Limited (ACPL) and an affected property owner, whose property is also the subject of a partial acquisition by Auckland Transport (AT), and to seek your continued co-operation in ensuring that Te Atatu residents are not placed under any unnecessary stress and concern.

The nature of the discussion was that, although she had been satisfied with the negotiation process to date (including the offer made recently by ACPL), after talking with you, she became confused. She had taken from your explanation of how you believe the basis of valuation assessment to be ($/m2) that our offer to her is less than fair. She indicated that you had asked her what she had been offered, then told her what some other people had been offered, creating the impression that her offer was a very low aberration. ACPL was also told that you had recommended that she “…hold off…” making a decision.

Gary, I find it difficult to align what ACPL was told by phone with your absolute insistence of your co-operation with AT’s land acquisition process; the more so after receiving emails you sent to ACPL that indicate you are satisfied with the nature of your own negotiation. I understand that you have a concern regarding who will manage the construction of the garage, but I also know that ACPL has informed you on several occasions that we have always intended to do this.

I know that you have expressed quite vehemently your co-operative spirit to the negotiation process, and so I trust that the phone call with ACPL is the result of ‘mixed messages’ and unplanned confusion.

The property owner who discussed her concern with ACPL was under an incorrect impression of how owners’ compensation offers have been calculated. The methodology is outlined in the Public Works Act 1981, but, typically, experienced Registered Valuers have a more in-depth understanding of such assessments. They are not based on a per-square-metre rate, but rather an overall compensation for loss is calculated, having regard to many different factors.

It would be wrong for me to write to ask you to desist in communicating with other property owners. I do ask, however:

  1. Please be very careful not to create false impressions with other property owners. Particularly, we are concerned that you avoid creating stress and confusion by attempting to explain a valuation process that you are unqualified to describe in detail. It would be much better to advise property owners to seek expert advice from a Registered Valuer appointed by them, at our cost;
  2. Please desist from advising property owners not to reach agreement with AT/ACPL, as this is unhelpful, and certainly not within the co-operative spirit you have told us you have in the context of your own negotiation;
  3. Please do not pass on any details of others’ negotiated agreements to other residents. It is unclear from the information provided to me whether this has happened or not, but I do make the point that such information is commercially sensitive to those owners who have confided in you.  

In closing, may I thank you for confirming your co-operative dealings with ACPL to date. Given that the only outstanding issue appears to be an unfounded concern that you might be asked to supervise construction of your new garage, I look forward to receiving advice that your negotiation with us is concluded in the near future.”

 

My response to him on 8 November was:

Your letter of 2 November was received by me today (8 November).

My initial reaction was to dismiss it as unworthy of a reply.

However, upon reflection, here is my response:

TPOG was set up so affected property owners could come together and share information. We have had three public meetings and two AT representatives spoke at our second meeting. If TPOG members have asked for my advice I have consistently suggested they should not be rushed into any decisions and should consult a lawyer before signing anything.

CO-OPERATION

Immediately upon receiving the letter dated 20/9/11 from Auckland Transport I contacted the advertised contact person to advise I would have problems with future garage access. I was advised to attend a meeting on 1 October 2011 that I did and found to be unproductive. I queued for half an hour to see Stuart Penfold and was then referred to your queue. You asked me to ring you in your office the following Monday.

Visit 1

A site inspection was arranged for 10 October then changed to 11 October. My tenants were totally co-operative. Stuart Penfold asked if they would be agreeable to future visits and they raised no objection provided they were given reasonable notice. They gave Stuart their phone number.

Visit 2

On 27 October 2011 you advised me “Formal negotiations, under the provisions of the Public Works Act 1981, are planned to commence in February 2012.” You also advised me in that same letter “the time taken for negotiation does largely depend on the property owner’s preparedness to negotiate in good faith.”

On 17 November 2011 Mohammed Alsakini advised me “We expect that we will be able to present indicative design options for your property access by 16 December 2011.”

On 8 December 2011, with Christmas approaching, my tenants asked me what was going on. I rang Stuart Penfold and he advised me he was not expecting to revisit within the next month.

On 26 January 2012 ACPL sent me a letter asking me to contact them. I did so on 28 January.

On 1 February I confirmed an appointment with Grant Sextone for a site visit at 9 am on 2 February. At 2.10 pm on 1 February Mohammed Alsakini rang my wife and said he wished to meet on site at 12 pm next day (so much for 48 hours notice!) When I got home at 7 pm I immediately rang Mohammed and left a message as I had a pre-arranged appointment elsewhere for that time. I also sent an email to Linda Holdaway, then cancelled the appointment with my tenants.

On 2 February I was surprised to receive a call from Grant Sextone at 9.10 am asking

where I was. Despite the confusion, I immediately visited the site, explained the situation  to my tenants, who were totally co-operative and allowed Grant Sextone and Linda Holdaway to proceed. ACPL had not known about the impending visit by AT. I suggested coordination may be useful in future.

Visit 3

On 14 February the Project Engineer turned up without a tape measure and then proceeded to demonstrate, by a series of diagrams, how a skilful driver would be able to manoeuvre a Mini out of my existing garage to enter the road in a forwards position. I offered him the keys to my Holden so he could give a demonstration for a larger car. He declined my offer. There was no mention of the idea of a free-standing garage raised four months earlier on 11 October 2011. I asked Linda Holdaway if she had seen a report of the site visit on 11 October. She had not. I suggested that might be a good idea. I also suggested it might be a good idea for the Project Manager to carry a tape measure on future site visits.

Visit 4

On 16 May the Project Engineer and two ACPL reps met me on site and a free-standing garage was agreed to in principle.

Visit 5

This did not take place due to changes in agreed arrangements.

On 14 September Alan Roberts, valuer, rang me and agreed to ring me back in three weeks to make a firm appointment to view the property.

My tenants were advised of an impending visit in the near future.

On 5 October I received an offer from AT via ACPL.

My tenants were advised no visit would be taking place.

On 9 October I sent six specific questions to Linda Holdaway.

The lack of communication and assertions made became the subject of a complaint to the NZ Institute of Valuers.

Visit 6

In view of the complications with visit 5, I had asked for confirmation in writing of any future visits.

On 16 October Linda Holdaway proposed some viewing times.

On 17 October I put the times to my tenants and they agreed to 19 October 9 am.

I advised Linda and in the interim asked for the courtesy of a response to my six specific questions from 9 October. A copy was forwarded to Darryl Griffin.

On 18 October I received no written confirmation, so cancelled the appointment and advised my tenants and Linda accordingly.

On 19 October Alan Roberts rang me. I told him the appointment had not been confirmed.

CONFUSION

You have claimed an unidentified lady who was happy with the offer received from ACPL rang an unidentified person in ACPL who contacted you to relay the message that the lady had contacted me and then become confused when she was told what other people had been offered. I would ask you to desist from insinuations based on fourth party hearsay.

I note you have said “It would be wrong for me to write to ask you to desist in communicating with other property owners.” I totally agree with you and suggest you heed your own advice.

On 27 October 2011 you informed me “ACPL will assume the role of negotiator after the Local Board has approved the final design.”

On 20 March 2012 Owena Schuster informed me “Regrettable that statement was made in error.”

On 21 November 2011 Mohammed Alsakini informed me “I wish to confirm that ACPL will engage with the landowners in informal negotiation prior to commence the formal process.”

On 14 February 2012 when I asked Linda Holdaway on site “Are we in informal or formal negotiations?” she looked rather nonplussed. I then showed Mohammed’s letter to him and a brief discussion on Section 17 and Section 18 took place.

On 20 March 2012 Owena Schuster informed me “The original target date set to move to Section 18 was set for June.”

On 5 July 2012 Mark Hannan claimed “Under the principle of existing use rights there will be no breach in this case even if the section becomes smaller than current regulations allow.”

On 14 August 2012 Darryl Griffin advised “It is not possible or appropriate for Auckland Council to give an assurance that existing use rights would apply to all properties affected by any road widening works in Te Atatu.”  

On 2 October 2012 Owena Schuster claimed there had been 15 settlements to date.

On 10 October, a week later, Doug Snell claimed there had been 12.

On 2 October 2012 Owena Schuster claimed there had been  65 offers to date.

On 10 October Doug Snell claimed there had been 58.

If there is confusion, may I suggest much of it is from within AT’s own ranks.

DEMOCRACY

My father risked his life daily in World War II fighting for democracy. He lost a brother in that war. With the lead up to the Super City we were promised time and time again accountability and transparency. Thank God we have such aims in a free society. I’m not going to have a bureaucrat tell me what I can and can’t do with information legally submitted to me.

The various insinuations in your letter are gratuitous and inaccurate.

I do hope you will ponder on what you have written and reflect upon the substance of your claims.

I was asked to restrict my communications with Auckland Transport to either Owena Schuster or Roger Wilson. This is made difficult if other people within the organisation communicate with me. Have you shown a copy of your letter to them?”

 

On 26 November I rang Owena Schuster, Elected Members Liaison, AT,  and she confirmed she had received a copy of both letters on 19 November.

I rang Michael Riley and asked who had authorised the sending of his letter. His response was “several people” including Mohammed Alsakini.

I emailed the following complaint to the CEO, David Warburton:

“I wish to complain about the threatening tone of the gratuitous letter dated 2 November, sent by Michael Riley and received by me on 8 November (copy enclosed).

Some time ago I was asked to restrict communication with Auckland Transport to either Roger Wilson or Owena Schuster. This is made difficult if other people within the organisation communicate with me. Today I asked Mr Riley who had authorised the sending off of such a document. He said there were “several people” including Mohammed Alsakini.

My response is enclosed.”   

 

On 27 November I made several attempts to contact David Warburton by phone so we could discuss the matter. The number I rang was 440 7921 and had a recorded message “You have reached the office of the Chief Executive and Nirelle Cooper. We can’t take your call at the moment.” It then asked the caller to leave a name and phone number and they would be contacted as soon as possible. I left a message on that number at 2.40 pm.

 

On 28 November, having received no call, I left another message on 440 7921 at 8.45 am. At 9.15 am I rang 355 3553 to see if I could be put through to David Warburton or Nirelle Cooper. Neither was available and I was asked by Tina if I had used the formal complaints process. I said I felt it was not appropriate in this case and asked to speak to the most senior person available. No-one was available so I decided to play the game and made a complaint over the phone which was read back to me at 9.30 am. I then sent a reminder to David Warburton.

By 1 pm I had heard nothing so rang 353 3553 and spoke to Colleen. Neither David Warburton, Nirelle Coper nor any members of the “Response Team” were available.

At 1.43 pm I emailed the following 3 questions to David Warburton:

  1. “Do you accept the tone of Mr Riley’s letter of 2 November was threatening?
  2. Who authorised its despatch?
  3. Do you condone it?”

 

On 29 November, having received neither phone call nor acknowledgement of my emails to the CEO I rang 355 3553, spoke to Risa, and was told there was no record of a complaint by me from the previous day. I lodged a new one and asked for a complaint number   — AT 2012061243

At 12.05 pm I spoke to Greg Edmonds, Chief of Operations, AT. I gave him a brief account of the last four days and he said he would ring me back.

At 12.10 pm Greg rang and said 440 7921 was an old number and should have been switched over to 447 4354 by IT.

I rang 447 4354 twice and got the same message “This number is not currently active.”

I rang Greg again and informed him what was happening. He said he would ring me back. Meanwhile I tried 447 4354 again and on three successive occasions after the phone going completely blank, it was followed by a 23 second delay, then a click then a voicemail message.

At 12.20 pm I rang Greg again and he said he would get Nirelle to ring me.

At 12.25 pm Michael Riley rang me and said he was preparing a response to my letter of 8 November. I said I would be doing things chronologically and informed him I had complained to the CEO and awaited a response. He asked what I meant by chronologically and I said in the order of time.

At 12.45 pm my phone rang. I answered it. There was no-one there.

At 12.46 pm I rang Greg again. He said they were having IT problems in Henderson.

At 12.48 pm Nirelle rang and said she had been trying to ring me but my phone was engaged. I said apart from my one call to Greg it had been free. She asked if I had had a conversation with Michael Riley. I said he had rung me but I would hardly call it a conversation. He had informed me he was preparing a reply to my letter of 8 November and had then asked me to explain what I meant by “chronologically”. I asked her if David Warburton had read my three specific questions. She said he had. I asked when he would be responding. She said she could not give a time frame. She told me she understood my time was valuable to me and endeavoured to cut the conversation short. I told her it hadn’t been helped by out of date phone numbers.

 

On 29 November, having still had no response from David Warburton I sent an email to Lester Levy, Chairman of the Board, AT, asking for answers to my questions.

At 3.31 pm I received the following email from David Warburton:

“I am responding to your recent emails to Auckland Transport and approximately 20 phone calls to various staff members.

I support Michael Riley, Owena Schuster and other staff in their efforts to keep you informed and provide information on proposed Auckland Transport programmes. Their correspondence/communication with you is in line with their respective authorizations and appropriate.

Staff have responded both in writing and by phone (often multiple attempts due to the line being engaged), to ensure you are aware of Auckland Transport plans. Efforts to respond have resulted in some activities operating in parallel. This is the result of endeavouring to provide a rapid response when staff are known to be committed in other areas.

I consider the staff have provided you with appropriate responses and will now treat the matter closed.”

 

My response at 4.04 pm was:

I am disappointed in your belated communication, your inaccurate assertions and your unwillingness to give specific answers to specific questions.

I certainly don’t consider the matter closed.”

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