PERTH businessman Paul Underwood says a prolonged dispute with the Department of Water over compulsorily acquired freehold land has burdened his family with extensive legal costs and left them with a property that is untradeable and unusable.
Mr Underwood and his brother, Craig, who owns and farms the property, argue they have not been fairly compensated for a section of their 1,700-hectare Jurien Bay farm, which has been classified as a high priority protection area under the Jurien Water Reserve plan.
The matter is currently before the State Administrative Tribunal. Mr Underwood, the former chief executive of Tap Oil, says more than 10 years elapsed between the public release of the Jurien plan and the reservation of the Underwood land, preventing the family from seeking compensation and deterring potential buyers who recognised horticultural development was no longer possible on the land.
He claims prospective buyers offered up to $10 million for the property but “ran for the hills” once they realised the property fell under a water protection area.
“Essentially, the business was unviable as of the year 2000,” Mr Underwood told WA Business News.
“The Department of Water did nothing for 10 years until 2010 when we sought a ministerial meeting.”
The department’s water quality protection guidelines define ‘most land uses’ as incompatible with the protection of underground water sources in Priority 1 areas.
A total of eight valuations have been undertaken on the property within three years, several of which Mr Underwood described as having been “appallingly prepared”.
“Why would you need so many valuations for a property like this?” he said.
“Had they got the first valuation right we would have been a very reasonable seller at a fair market price.”
“Rarely do I see a valuer working for the government with a town planning report or an engineering report attached to their valuations,” he said.
“If the landowner hasn’t got the guts to take them on, these valuations that are done for the government are really just ‘guesstimates’ because they haven’t got the resources.”
Mr Ferguson, who is advising the Underwoods, said government projects that could affect the value of private land should be included in town planning schemes or be subject to planning control areas upon being announced so landowners can claim compensation without delay.
Water Minister Bill Marmion said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter until the tribunal had completed its deliberations or the proceedings were otherwise resolved.