HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

South Wairarapa District Council is once again caught between a rock and a hard place after discovering important information was left off a title for land it owns.

The council planned to sell a Greytown section off Pierce St for a 57-lot subdivision.

About a year ago, while attempting to transfer the land title from SWDC to the property developer, it became known that two paper roads that featured had never been legalised.

The issue dates back more than 100 years but the property sale cannot go ahead until the matter is resolved.

SWDC chief executive Paul Crimp confirmed he knew about the issue a year ago.

However, many councillors were left in the dark until this month.

While solving the problem was proving to be “drawn-out and complicated”, Crimp said he was confident the subdivision would go ahead.

“We have a signed purchase and sale agreement for the land at the centre of the land known as the Tararua Junction development.

“When we commenced the sale process, our due diligence identified there were two paper roads on the title, but no other encumbrances of concern.

“The sale was subject to the extinguishing of these roads, usually a relatively straightforward process.

“As we were progressing the sale process it became apparent that these roads were never legalised.”

Paperwork showed the issue arose sometime in the late 1800s, he said.

“We are having to find and review information back that far to ensure the intention was to transfer the land under the roads to the local authority of the day.”

Crimp said Land Information NZ would have to be satisfied of this for the issue to be resolved, which he hoped would occur in the next few months.

SWDC has been under fire this year after a developer withdrew a proposal to build a significant development in central Featherston on Fitzherbert St.

This followed the discovery of telecommunication ducts on the section that could not be built over.

The council had acquired the land through a land swap with Trust House in 2010.

Negative public feedback prompted South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier to commission an independent review by Christopher Hodson QC, who subsequently recommended that council make it a priority to familiarise itself with its land.

Featherston councillor Lee Carter said it was as though history was repeating itself with the Greytown matter, which she only found out about this month.

She said she hoped SWDC would take Hodson’s advice seriously because “we actually don’t know what we’ve got [land wise]”.

Greytown resident Warren Woodgyer, who requested clarity over the matter at SWDC’s meeting on September 19, said it was “pretty poor” that some councillors had not been properly informed.

Crimp said it was unfortunate SWDC was facing another land dispute due to relevant information being left off a title.

“There are lessons, absolutely, and we’ve learnt them — don’t trust what’s on the title, dig as deeply as you can.”

Acting Mayor Brian Jephson confirmed he had known about the Greytown issue for some time.

“I did know about it and I never presumed it to be a risk, but in hindsight we should have told everyone, eventhough it’s more operational.”

He said the two recent land problems had been contributing factors to changes made to SWDC’s Acquisition and Disposal of Land and Buildings Policy.