Shire of Collie 2023-24 budget reviews shows council spends $253,500 on Supreme Court case legal fees

Headshot of Sean Van Der Wielen
Sean Van Der WielenSouth Western Times
The Shire of Collie has spent $253,000 on legal fees defending itself in a case in the WA Supreme Court.
Camera IconThe Shire of Collie has spent $253,000 on legal fees defending itself in a case in the WA Supreme Court. Credit: Sean Van Der Wielen/South Western Times

A South West council has been forced to spend a six-figure sum to defend a lawsuit in the WA Supreme Court.

The Shire of Collie’s 2023-24 budget review approved by elected members earlier this month reveals the council spent $253,500 defending the planning dispute.

Smargiassi Nominees took the council to court over a long-running disagreement with a Collie River Scenic Drive property and its uses under the council’s local planning scheme.

A development approval given by the shire before Smargiassi Nominees purchased the site in 2008 allowed it to be used for engineering, fabrication and earthmoving services.

But a planning scheme change in 2009 banned industrial uses on Collie River Scenic Drive except those approved before the change which had not stopped occurring at the location.

In 2017 the council won a case against the company, later upheld by the Court of Appeal, which found Smargiassi Nominees had unlawfully used the property to store scrap metal, skip bins, car bodies, old machinery, timber and builders’ rubble.

Smargiassi Nominees filed its lawsuit seeking a ruling which would have confirmed its ability to use the property for certain purposes.

The case was dismissed in January by Chief Justice Peter Quinlan, who determined the company’s claims for why its uses of the site were legal were “without merit”.

Chief Justice Quinlan was also not satisfied the industrial activities approved before the 2009 planning scheme change had not been occurring when the changes were made or had continued at the site.

Shire president Ian Miffling said the matter was now between the two parties as to how much compensation the council would receive for its legal costs.

“The council can’t claim for costs getting up to trial, so all of the preliminary stuff you do with your legal people,” he said.

“All you can do is claim for the time that the barristers and lawyers spent while it was in the court in the actual trial period, so that is what is being negotiated between the two parties.”

Discussions will go to court if the council and company cannot agree on a figure.

Council documents state the legal cost reimbursement is expected to occur next financial year.

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