FREMANTLE council has won on appeal a dispute with a landowner over a small strip of land on High Street.
But lawyers representing the owner says the decision has “huge ramifications” and could throw into doubt the sale and development of a number of properties along High Street, including the council’s recent decision to offload its carpark on Josephson Street to a developer.
The dispute was over the footpath and CAT bus stand on High Street opposite Victoria Hall, and was sparked by landlord Charles Iraci seeking permission to put up a bike shelter outside his shopping centre in 2018.
The council knocked Mr Iraci back, arguing it controlled the land under a vesting order which came into effect when it widened the road reserve in the early 1960s. The issue went to the State Administrative Tribunal, which then flicked it to the WA Supreme Court.
The court roped in WA’s commissioner for titles Susan Dukes, meaning Mr Iraci was now also up against the state government, but justice Kenneth Martin decided in his favour, saying the businessman was the rightful owner.
However, when lands minister Rita Saffioti’s lawyers became involved in the appeal this February, they dropped a bombshell; they’d found an amendment to the local government act back in 1962 which had so far escaped everyone’s attention but shed a completely different light on the situation.
On Friday the three judges hearing the appeal agreed, saying the land belonged to the Crown and Mr Iraci had no claim.
Tim Houweling from Mr Iraci’s team at Cornerstone Legal said they were looking seriously at taking the matter to the high court, but as it stood the finding created a legal “travesty”.
“The ramification is that the permanency of title is not as permanent is you’d think; that what you see on your title not necessarily what you get,” Mr Hoeweling said.
He said it meant people would have to trawl through decades of laws and documents just to check if the government had taken an interest in their property at any point.
He says a number of developments and land sales along High Street and Hampton Road could be affected by the decision, leading to a flood of negligence claims agains the city and the state government.
Cornerstone was also preparing to write a letter to Yolk Properties which recently bought the council carpark across the road from Mr Iraci’s shops, saying its plans for a six-storey timber-framed office are in jeopardy.
But a spokesperson from the council said the sale to Yolk came with a caveat that it could only build up to the “new building line” established by the council back in the 1950s: “The situation with Lot 8 was resolved many, many years ago,” he said.
By STEVE GRANT