Monday, 21 April 2014

The Great NSW Crown Roads Scam

Suppose that by some historical mishap a section of your neighbours' land been included into your block. In farming communities this can happen due to a bad sense of direction while fencing.

It is up to the owner of the land to have the land surveyed and the cost of fencing the area properly are shared 50-50 between the neighbours. 

Once this land is returned to the legal owner it is up to the owner to control weeds and feral pest.

Not so if the land in question are crown roads belonging to the state government. 

The state government has decided that you the land holder have to pay for the land surveyed then pay for all the fencing and once this is done you are still responsible for weeds and feral pest.

Talk about a bad neighbour, you cannot even take them to court to achieve a fairer settlement.  

I suppose I should explain what crown roads are, they are in reality lines that were drawn on maps to accommodate for population expansion, or access to plots of land.

No investigation was done to find out the need or suitability of these roads. The result is that there are roads going through wetlands, floodplains, through steep gullies and even up cliff faces.

For years the rent was very low, then the state government had a problem with the crown roads around the Sydney harbour area. Millionaires renting foreshore crown roads for $5 per year so KPMG the financing firm were brought in to investigate and report on the crown road systems.

The result was the rent for these crown roads went through the roof, it all depended how many blocks of land you own and how many crown roads are within the blocks. Increases in rent from $50 per year to $800 per year are common.

If this was residential land you could go to the rental board and protest the large rental increase. but since the state government is the landlord you do not have any options for redress.

I agreed to buy the crown roads on my land 7 years ago when I received their offer of purchase, but because of the inactivity of the Department of Trade & Investment Crown Lands it has taken them 7 years to present me with their final offer.

All this time I was forced to pay them rent on the roads. Since it was no fault of mine that the process took so long I thought that at least some of that rent money should be credited towards the sale.

Not so the state governments reply.

Then we come to the purchase price of the crown roads, this process has followed the same reasoning that caused the roads to be created.

Neverland thinking has decided that the valuer generals estimation of property value should be used regardless of the market value of the land or its production potential.

This means that cliff faces can cost $7,000 per hectare, and is included if you wish to fence the area out.

Wetlands are another source of problems, these areas come under the state government Wetland policy SEPP 14, with all the restrictions to land use that are under this act, but when the price of crown roads is concerned it makes no difference.

An example of this is a lower Clarence farmer who owns land that is a wetland. He has been told that the crown roads on his property will cost him $7,243 hectare. 

When he pointed out that his neighbour who has flood free prime cropping land has had his place on the market for 3 years for $3,000 per hectare and has still not been able to sell his land, he was told that it was not relevant and the price of the crown roads in his farm would remain at the price the department demanded.

Back to my gripes with this process - it has taken the state government 7 years to come to the party and give me a price for the crown roads on my property yet they give me a deadline of 30 days to accept or decline the offer.

It seems that I have no right to negotiate a more realistic price for this land based on market value or production potential or restriction imposed by the state government. If I refuse to buy the roads I have two options:
  •     Pay for surveying the land and fencing it out of my property, and then still be responsible for weeds and feral pests on this land. Not to mention that the road would cut the property into two portions which would make the farm management very hard.
  •      Pay the rent that the state government demands, which has no basis in land use or land value. Currently the state government rent on 2 hectare on a 97 hectare property is more than a third of my council rates. I am sure that this rent will increase exponentially.
So what can you do when the state government, who makes the rules and enforces them, extorts farmers to pay for a historical stuff-up of the government's making. 

Then the state government demands fees and charges of over $1,700 which are not negotiable on each transaction.

Who do you go to get some justice? Who has the money to take this to the courts? Not me.

This process is a classic standover practice commonly used by criminal gangs but because it is the state government using this process it is deemed legal, with no thought given to fairness or justice.

I wonder if they’ll accept that interesting bottle of Grange I found on my doorstep this morning in lieu of those dollars........

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