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NSW Court of Appeal revisits compulsory acquisition law

NSW Court of Appeal revisits compulsory acquisition law

On 6 September 2018, the NSW Court of Appeal (Bathurst CJ, Ward JA and Payne JA) delivered judgment in the case of Roads and Maritime Services v Desane Properties Pty Ltd [2018] NSWCA 196.

The case concerned the validity of a Proposed Acquisition Notice (PAN) that had been issued by the RMS for the compulsory acquisition of a property owned by Desane at Rozelle. The property was required as part of the proposed Rozelle Interchange associated with the Westconnex road project in Sydney.

The Court of Appeal (in a unanimous judgment) overturned the decision of the primary judge and found that the PAN was valid. Accordingly, the RMS was able to proceed with the acquisition of the property.

In its judgment, the Court of Appeal gave useful guidance as to the circumstances in which a PAN will be legally defective. The Court held that:

  • PANs are not required to strictly comply with the Approved Form under the Land Acquistion (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991 (the Act) and that “substantial compliance” is sufficient;
  • similarly, PANs do not need to precisely adopt the language of the Act at the time of issue;
  • there is no requirement for a PAN to state the public purpose for the acquisition;
  • there was no improper purpose on the part of the RMS in relation to the acquisition of the property. The Court found that the critical time for assessing purpose is not when the PAN is issued, but at the time of acquisition. The Court overruled the finding of the trial judge that the RMS intended to acquire the property as open space and parkland – as this would only arise once construction of the underground interchange was complete. The Court adopted a liberal approach to the necessary “purpose” and found that that there was no need to identify the specific purpose with precision at the time the PAN was issued.

Lessons from the Case

The case provides important appellant guidance as to the circumstances in which a PAN may be legally invalid.

The overriding theme of the case is that Courts should adopt a measure of flexibility when the validity of a PAN is challenged. That said, Councils and government agencies still need to exercise great care in the preparation of PANs and the surrounding process to avoid subsequent legal challenges to compulsory acquisition.

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