Island prices finally break waterline
A Land Court decision has revived the dreams of bay island property owners but created a financial nightmare for the local council, as Hedley Thomas and Steven Wardill report
A pensioner has paved a path for hundreds of owners to achieve a potential windfall from island land first sold off during a scam more than 30 years ago.
Mike Atkin, 66, trounced the Redland Shire Council yesterday in a Land Court test case which could affect the future of islands including Russell, Macleay and Lamb in southern Moreton Bay.
Mr Atkin’s win also shaped up as a multimillion-dollar dilemma for the council and the State Government, lawyers and valuers said.
It meant that many blocks of land previously described as virtually worthless and sought by the council for resumption have suddenly become valuable.
Mr Atkin, a former navy reserve diver, yesterday was awarded compensation of more than $80,000 as well as costs for a block of waterfront Russell Island land the council and state government had valued at only $600.
The council had ruled that the block, which he bought for $2000 in 1971, had drainage problems and Mr Atkin was forbidden from building a home there.
After three decades of accepting rates from Mr Atkin the council resumed his land two years ago for $10,000 and designated it as “public open space”.
The picturesque islands have been linked with scandal, fraud and council turmoil since the late 1960s. Some of the land originally subdivided and sold was covered by water at high tide, resulting in one of the longest-running trials in Australia’s history.
Council and environmental groups have been concerned that run-off from septic sewerage systems used by residents would pollute Moreton Bay.
However property owners have persistently lobbied for better infrastructure and the right to build on their island land.
Those blocks approved for housing have risen steeply in value in recent years, but others determined by council to have drainage problems have stagnated.
Leading valuer Iain Herriot, an expert witness in the Land Court case, said yesterday that Mr Atkin’s block would be worth more than $240,000 in the current market.
He said hundreds of other owners who have been denied the opportunity to build and been offered a relative pittance for their land may take comfort from the court findings.
“After today’s court ruling land-owners would be justified in having a healthy degree of scepticism regarding any valuation the council offers on their land,” he said.
Solicitor Geoff Horne, of McLaughlins, said his law firm ran the case for free “because we believed so strongly that Mike Atkin had been wronged”.
“There will be some very nervous people in the Redland Shire Council as a result of this decision,” he said.
“We have every reason to believe that about 800 blocks (awaiting council resumption) would fall into the same category.
“The basis on which other blocks have been resumed is fundamentally flawed and (the former owners) have an ability to seek a review.”
Mr Atkin, of Ipswich, said that in 1971 he believe that he had bought “the best piece of dirt on Russell Island”.
“But when I came to build my dream house, they blocked me,” Mr Atkin said.
“I started this fight not just for me but for all the other pensioners who couldn’t afford to do this.”
Council chief executive officer Susan Rankin and Mayor Don Seccombe said the Land Court
“It is important for council to be fully informed on the matter in order to determine whether any further action is necessary, or whether there are any other ramifications flowing from this decision,” Cr Seccombe said.
Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson had not read the decision, but he played down its ramifications and said every case was different.
“A full consideration of this judgment will have to be made by both the council and, no doubt, not just my department but others as well as to whether it does have longer term impacts,” he said.
CASH CLAIMS TO FLOOD IN
Mike Atkin was the name on everyone’s lips yesterday, as news of his historic court win reached Russell Island.
Real estate agent Ian Larkman said the decision was a definite win for property owners.
“It’s bloody hard fighting City Hall. But he just kept going until eventually he got the compensation,” Mr Larkman said.
“This (case) confirms people’s rights. If you buy a block of land and its zoned Residential A then you should be able to build on it.”
“Council was really challenging that right and then rezoning without offering the proper compensation.”
Mr Larkman said the value of more than 500 blocks deemed to have drainage problems by the previous Redland Shire Council could now jump overnight.
“It means a lot of waterfront properties that were virtually worthless before are now worth a few hundred thousand,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people out there who bought over the years and they’ve seen values plummet, but now it’s actually worth something.”
Resident Brian Paddison said the decision might also lead to massive compensation claims.
“There was a lot of people who handed blocks back to council for $2000 or $3000 because they were told they had insurmountable drainage problems and would never be allowed to build on it,” he said. “It turns out now that (council) couldn’t refuse an approval so the blocks could be built on.”
– Erica Thompson
Source: The Courier-Mail Saturday 24 July, 2004