Battle over ‘intrusive’ access to property

Wednesday June 19, 2019 Written by Published in National

Government infrastructure project managers will be allowed to walk onto private land without prior notice.

 

The new Infrastructure Act authorises access to privately-owned land, as long as it does not disturb the occupier.

Project managers may enter your property to investigate possible new infrastructure, alterations or maintenance.

A select committee changed the bill to constrain access, warning that unfettered access may be “very intrusive”.

The committee acknowledged that some officials like power meter readers needed to “come and go”. But it was not acceptable to extend that authorisation to any project manager considering building new infrastructure.

Public meetings had been told that infrastructure managers would need to seek prior consent before coming onto land, except in the case of emergency.

According to the new law, though, a right of access may be exercised “without prior notice to the occupier or owner of the land, as long as the access does not disturb the occupier, the land or vegetation on it in more than a minor way”.

Prior reasonable notice is required once the project manager is ready to actually do the construction, alterations or maintenance.

Parliament made some changes to the bill, in response to the select committee concerns: it inserted the caveat that infrastructure officials should not disturb the occupiers w hen they come onto the land.

Yesterday, Cook Islands News revealed that an infrastructure manager will be required to seek the agreement of the landowner to acquire their land for a public project – but if that agreement can’t be reached, they can obtain a court warrant to compulsorily acquire the land.

It comes after problems getting land access for big projects like Te Mato Vai. This led to delays in the multi-million dollar project to provide potable water to Rarotonga residents.

The court can grant the infrastructure manager whatever right or interest in the land it is satisfied is appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances, though it may also set terms and conditions and require “appropriate compensation”.

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