Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet stops neighbour from erecting billboard: High Court decision

Fashion designer and businesswoman Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet has won the first round of a legal fight to stop a neighbour stepping on to her property to erect two electronic billboards.

Associate Judge Rachel Sussock in the High Court at Auckland granted a stay in proceedings in the case brought by property investor Freedom Ventures against L’Estrange-Corbet and others.

Freedom Ventures owns Wyne’s Cafe at a prominent intersection near Spaghetti Junction in Auckland.

Twelve wall pegs on the front and side of that Pitt St cafe mark where static billboards once were. Those have since been taken down from beside the fashion designer’s property but the landlord wants to put up new billboards.

L’Estrange-Corbet and others own the historic neighbouring 8a Pitt St, a former Wesleyan Church, beside the cafe at 8 Pitt St which has advertising on its roof and billboards on its street front.

But the problem is that to get to the cafe sidewall, contractors must step on to L’Estrange-Corbet’s property.

And she is denying them access.

Freedom Ventures struck a contract in 2019 to erect new digital billboards on the cafe, so a representative from that business asked L’Estrange-Corbet if his client could step on to her land to erect the new displays.

She said no, expressing concern because no resource consent had been obtained.

So the cafe owner went to court, seeking orders for reasonable access on the basis that the sidewall of his cafe was landlocked. Under the Property Law Act, access must be granted in such cases, argued the lawyer for the plaintiff, Neomal Perera.

The judge said Freedom Ventures had entered into a contract with Digital Signs to supply the two new digital screens.

Dave Jaques of Digital contacted L’Estrange-Corbet two years ago, saying he wanted to replace the billboards. He needed access over her property to install the billboard on the sidewall, the work would only take two to three days and there was a resource consent.

She declined access on behalf of the trust that owns the property. Jaques then wrote to her asking again for access.

Jaques had said resource consent had been obtained. But it had not. He also argued that access had previously been granted to Freedom Ventures to paint the cafe.

Images showed the new digital billboards would be larger than the static ones that had been up previously.

She wrote back, again confirming that she would not give access across the trust’s property. A green metal fence below the wall hinders access to the side of the cafe and the side billboard cannot be erected from the roof.

She told Jaques: “Expect to stand in front of a High Court judge and explain why your property rights exceed the reasonable needs of a neighbour built right to the boundary.”

Via the trust, she then had a trespass notice issued against Jaques and any other contractors associated with him.

She also discovered there was no resource consent for the proposed digital billboards, the decision said.

So Freedom Ventures went to court applying for reasonable access to the high-profile property that is landlocked but in an area where thousands of cars pass daily, making it extremely desirable for high-profile advertising.

The cafe owner also proposed to pay the neighbour $17.39 per month in return for access being granted.

The judge noted there was no right to have a billboard – static or digital – on the cafe at all. Existing use rights had expired and it was more than a year since the previous billboards had been removed, she said.

But Freedom Ventures said it was only because it had been refused access that there were no signs up on the side or front of the cafe. The cafe landlord also told the judge there was no point in applying to the council for consent to erect the new billboards until it knew whether it could gain access over her property.

The judge decided it was best to stay the proceedings.

That would allow Freedom Ventures an opportunity to apply to Auckland Council for a resource consent for the new billboards. The defendants had succeeded in the case, she decided. The judge decided the defendants – the designer and others via the trust – had won this round.

Counsel for L’Estrange-Corbet said today she had nothing to say about the case.

Jacque Lethbridge, a partner at Martelli McKegg, said this morning: “I have taken instructions and my clients will not be making any comment.”

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