Lenneke Serjeant, of Wooloweyah, in front of her house.
Lenneke Serjeant, of Wooloweyah, in front of her house.

Fight with Coucil costs $50,000

WOOLOWEYAH couple Barry and Lenneke Serjeant are about $50,000 out of pocket despite winning their battle with Clarence Valley Council in the Land and Environment Court.

The Serjeants took the council to court in September last year after it refused to allow them to subdivide their property to build a second dwelling on the site.

Although the Serjeant's won their case, the court did not order that council pay the couple’s legal costs, estimated to be around $50,000.

Council’s legal bill for the case against the Serjeants was $15,038.21.

The council was not so lucky when it took on Boral Resources over the James Creek Concrete Batching Plant. The Land and Environment Court ordered council to pay Boral’s $85,000 legal bill in addition to its own costs amounting to $11,396.

Council refused to reveal its legal costs in these two cases so The Daily Examiner paid to make Freedom of Information requests to the council.

The Serjeant's have been told there are legal avenues they can take to recover some of the costs, but they are unsure if they will proceed.

“Our advice was that we could possibly get a small portion of our costs back, but that would involve paying more solicitors and legal fees,” Mrs Serjeant said.

The couple are bitterly disappointed with the costs outcome.

“We look at the handful of objectors and even though we won, we are $50,000 worse off,” she said.

And the couple are similarly unimpressed with the councillors who voted down their DA.

“Council originally voted 5-4 in our favour,” Mrs Serjeant said.

“Sue Hughes (a councillor) supported us. She said it was a ‘no brainer’.”

“Seven days later she had a complete turnaround and council voted 4-5 against us.”

The Serjeants legal advisers, Wall and Company Lawyers, said there were legal reasons behind the discrepancy.

“This was a merit appeal against a council decision,” said company spokesperson Wroth Wall.

“It’s a class one proceedings and in my experience costs are never ordered.”

Mr Wall said the reasoning behind this was not to deter people from appealing against decisions of organisations such as councils.

“I’ve had plenty of people take on big organisations in class four proceedings where they have lost and had to pay the council’s legal fees as well as their own,” he said.

Council general manager Stuart McPherson said council did not have insurance cover for legal costs, but it did budget for them.

He did not reveal the amount budgeted but said in the past five years council had spent less than it budgeted for legal costs in most years.

“This was not the case last year,” he said.



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