The Pacific Highway in northern NSW.
The Pacific Highway in northern NSW. David Nielsen

Rejected RTA offer reaps $800k

A WOOLGOOLGA family is celebrating an $800,000 victory.

Their successful legal pushback on an RTA offer for compulsory acquisition of their land – earmarked to be part of the Sapphire to Woolgoolga Pacific Highway upgrade – is expected to trigger more challenges.

The landowner, who did not wish to be identified, recommended that anyone in doubt about values should not accept the first purchase offer made by the RTA.

Initially offered $500,000 for his farm, which his family has worked for three generations, he gained legal advice took the matter to the Valuer-General and has now settled on a $1.3 million payout.

“It has been a substantial windfall for my family, while we haven’t seen the money yet, we stand to receive almost three times more for our land, than we would have got under the RTA’s first offer,” the property owner said.

“Our land, which is zoned 1A Agriculture had been earmarked by the Coffs Harbour Council for future residential development.

“An independent valuer valued the property at $1.65 million, so yeah we were heartbroken to receive an offer of $500,000, when the preferred route was announced.

“At first I thought we might be able to agree on $600,000 to $650,000 but to get well over a million is great news.

“We knew the land was worth that much but the RTA pays you for what the land is valued at today, not what it could be in the future.

“In saying that if I had a choice in the matter I’d continue to farm this land.”

Legal firm Slater & Gordon Lawyers of Coffs Harbour has already negotiated up to double the initial offers the RTA made to two of its clients.

Those landowners on the planned route have seen the initial offers increased by 117 and 166 per cent by not accepting the first offer.

“What we are able to do is explain the legislation and negotiate on their part to achieve better results,” Vincent Butcher, from Slater & Gordon said.

“This has been two great results for the landowners, which have been achieved simply by understanding the land owner’s full rights.

“It is important to remember, particularly as the RTA starts to make offers to around 170 land owners on the Macksville to Urunga upgrade, that no one has to accept the first offer.”

Compulsory land acquisitions are made under the ‘Land Acquisition (Just terms Compensation) Act’.

As it was raised in the hit Australian movie The Castle, an objective of the Act is to ensure that when land is compulsorily acquired; “just compensation” is paid.

Mr Butcher says this compensation would typically reflect the market value of the land and improvements and a value for the disturbance as a result of acquisition.

He said the RTA, like any prudent purchaser, obtain or conduct their own valuations on each property in obtaining market value.

“While the RTA is fair in its dealings, effected landowners must take responsibility to ensure they achieve what they believe is market value and all their entitlements under the Act,” Mr Butcher said.

“It is our job (as solicitors) to make sure the landowner gets market value and full compensation under the Act.

“Understanding your rights is the most important thing when negotiating a fair price with the RTA,” he added.

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