The Public Works Act 1981 (PWA) is a piece of legislation that enables the compulsory acquisition of any land required for public work purposes. You may have seen heartbreaking stories in the news about homeowners being forced to sell their property for the building of a new road or stadium or some other public work and thought “How is the government allowed to do this?”.
That is a good question, as the ability of the Crown and other authorities to take land from private landowners for public works is one of the most surprising and coercive powers that the government has. Unfortunately, if you are notified that your property is wanted for a public work, chances are that eventually, you will have to give it up.
The authorities that can acquire property under the PWA include Ministers of the Crown, local and territorial authorities, like local and regional councils, and network utility operators who are building or doing something related to a public work. Network utility operators can include anyone working on roads, railway lines, airports, and electricity, drainage and sewerage networks, and more.
Any of these authorities can acquire land, or part of land, for the purposes of a public work. A public work is any new or upgraded public infrastructure, including community and social infrastructures, such as schools and stadiums.
The process leading to the eventual acquisition of land under the PWA can be a long one.
First, the land needed for the public work is identified. At this stage, negotiations may begin between the authority and the landowner. A Notice of Requirement may be issued before negotiations begin or during negotiations. A Notice of requirement may be public or limited in who receives it, and it essentially states who requires the land and why it is required.
Next, the landowner and the authority will get valuations on the land in question. Negotiations will then turn to the question of compensation and exactly how much money the landowner will get for their property. During this stage, the authority may issue a Notice of Desire to Acquire the property in terms of section 18 of the PWA. This is a different notice from the Notice of Requirement mentioned earlier. The issue of a formal Notice of Desire to Acquire triggers a 3-month period for the parties to enter into an agreement under section 17 of the PWA.
If, after a year from the issue of the Notice of Desire to Acquire, no agreement has been entered and no negotiations have progressed, the authority can issue a formal Notice of Intention to Take Land in terms of section 23 of the PWA, without the landowner’s agreement. The landowner can file an objection in the Environment Court if they believe that their land is not necessary to achieve the objectives of the public work. The findings of the Court are binding on the authority.
If the amount of compensation is not agreed upon, a claim can be filed in the Land Valuation Tribunal. Landowners are entitled to full compensation for:
Additional compensation may be available outside of this “basic” compensation – for example, if the landowner is losing their principal place of residence, or if they had to move their business premises and suffered financial losses as a result.
Whether the land is acquired by agreement or taken without agreement, there are a host of deadlines along the way by which responses need to be made, claims and objections filed, and negotiations finalised. Engaging a lawyer to act in your interests if your land is being acquired will be a huge help. Though the process can be long, difficult and stressful, we can help get you the best compensation offer and final result possible for you and your family. Contact the friendly team at Wakefields Lawyers today on (04) 970 3600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Brooke McGowan (Graduate)