Ratepayers set to bear brunt of costly law clashes

THE Southern Downs Regional Council is battling nearly a dozen court actions which will potentially cost ratepayers dearly, court records show.

A string of recent development refusals in both the Warwick and Stanthorpe areas are being challenged in court, including a plan for a wind farm at Dalveen and the massive Cherrabah Resort redevelopment.

The council is also fighting a $1 million personal injury claim brought by a former employee who alleges he received a severe back injury while clearing weeds from a dam in 2009.

Other planning cases include stoushes over council's refusal of backpacker accommodation at Thulimbah, a 39 unit complex at Rowland Crt in Warwick, a 44 unit plan for Wallace St, units and a subdivision in the St George Springs estate in Warwick, a transport depot at Stanthorpe and a small-scale land subdivision at Dalveen.

Also making the list is a dispute over extra race days for Stanthorpe's Carnell Raceway.

The Cherrabah plan and court case are on hold pending an assessment of the proposal by the Federal Government under its environmental laws.

Developers who lodge appeals against council refusals do so in the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland, which is notoriously slow.

Most appeals are finalised out of court but still cost council significant amounts in legal fees.

If matters cannot be negotiated they proceed to a full-blown trial, with both sides required to hire barristers and specialist witnesses such as engineers, noise and traffic experts, environmental scientists, surveyors and the like.

Council staff also give evidence, but at times lack the specific expertise in certain fields, and if council loses it is usually liable for payment of court costs.

Court action can be equally as costly for developers, with a recent case, which council lost, over a chicken grower farm at Elbow Valley understood to have cost the proponent close to $1 million.

Over in the Supreme Court of Queensland the council has lodged a notice of intention to defend the personal injury claim from Warwick's Shane Hattersley, who is suing the council through Shine Lawyers for a total of $1,004,937.70.

Mr Hattersley claims his back injury - sustained on a property at Stanthorpe where he was clearing salvinia from a dam with a garden rake - has left him permanently unable to work and with ongoing physical and psychiatric issues.

Shine Lawyers claim the council failed in its duty of care towards their employee and that the risk of serious injury to Mr Hattersley was "foreseeable" to his supervisors.

Council's director of Planning and Environment Ken Harris said council had "a number of issues that are at various stages of legal proceedings".

"In most cases these matters are resolved during mediation and do not need to proceed to the Planning and Environment Court," Mr Harris said.

"The 13/14 budget for legal matters across the whole of council is $256,300.

"Since much has been used for planning and environment matters, the Planning and Environment Department have spent $157,683 in court case and non-court case legal fees.

"The total legal fees spent to date is $233,782 but due to the number of legal cases, council is unsure of the final costs to the end of the financial year.

"This is dependent on whether cases are resolved at mediation or court appearances are required."

To see the court documents go to Queensland Courts party search page.

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