This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to - Compulsory acquisition of private land for public purposes in New Zealand


In certain cases New Zealand local authorities or central government may require private landowners to relinquish their land for the development of public works such as motorways, roads and schools. The rationale behind the acquisition is that the benefits to the public in these cases outweigh the rights of private individuals.

The NZ PUBLIC WORKS ACT 1981 sets out the procedure that must be followed.

Notice to be served on the landowner and other interested parties

The initial step is that the authority concerned will serve you a notice of their desire to acquire all or part of your land. The notice will also be served on any other person who has a registered interest in your land, such as a bank or other financial institution with a mortgage on your property.

This notice will also be lodged with the District Land Registrar and placed on your Certificate of Title. You will then be invited to negotiate in good faith with the authority to sell your land for a fair price as determined by a registered valuer.

What happens if agreement is reached?

If you do reach an agreement and are to receive compensation, a Compensation Certificate will be registered by the District Land Registrar on the title. The Certificate will contain:

  • a description of the land
  • a brief outline of the contents of the agreement

What happens if no agreement is reached?

If no agreement is reached, and the authority does not withdraw the notice, the authority may initiate the compulsory acquisition procedure under the Act.

A survey of the area will be made, and a plan prepared and lodged with the Chief Surveyor. A notice of intention to take the land will be sent to you and to any party with a registered interest. The notice must include a description of the land and the purpose for which the land is to be used. This notice will be published in the Gazette and published twice in local newspapers.

Can I object to my land being compulsorily acquired?

You may object to the acquisition of your property, in which case a hearing will be heard before the Environment Court. Your objection must be in writing and must be sent to the Registrar of the Environment Court within 20 working days after the notice of intention to take the land was served on you.

The court will send a copy of your objection to the relevant Minister or local authority.

You must be given at least 15 working days' notice of the time and place of the hearing. The hearing is held in public, unless you request that it be held in private.

In making a decision the court will consider:

  • the Minister's objectives, and
  • whether adequate consideration has been given to alternative sites or methods to achieve the objectives

The court can direct the relevant authority to reconsider its decision or it can allow the acquisition process to continue.

Cautionary notes
  • The acquisition of private land for a public purpose is a complex process, especially if the land concerned is Maori land or is held by a trust, or if there are more than four owners. The services of a lawyer who is familiar with this area of law are essential in protecting your rights as a private landowner.

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