Council considers legal issues

BALANCING what Gympie Regional Council can afford to spend on the region’s roads and its legal responsibilities to maintain them may prove difficult.

A ratepayer, who lives along what was originally a forestry road, has prompted council to ask the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) for a model policy on unmaintained roads and ask lawyers for an opinion on whether council needed to maintain the road – as forestry has ceased operations in the area and they are no longer maintaining the road.

Council asked its lawyers what legal liability they had to provide access to the property, whether council was liable for any damages caused by the road being unmaintained and whether ratepayers would incur any liability if they upgraded the road themselves.

The answer from King and Company Solicitors was there was no general requirement for council to provide access.

But in light of council’s knowledge of the poor condition of the road council had a legal obligation to perform inspections of the road and repair any part that was unsafe.

“Council is not relieved of current or future liability with regard to the road by virtue of permitting a ratepayer to conduct works on the road ... if council intends to permit a ratepayer to undertake works, council should ensure it obtains appropriate indemnities from the ratepayer and ensure that the ratepayer holds an appropriate level of public liability insurance,” King and Company Solicitors have written to council.

Council’s Director of Engineering Services, Bob Fredman, has said a report from 2008 showed council could afford to maintain just over half of the region’s roads to a reasonable standard.

He has now been directed to draft a policy to try and balance council’s overall legal liability for all roads and the capability for council to maintain them.

In a report to council’s last Works and Services Committee meeting, Mr Fredman wrote that theoretically, council had the potential legal liability for all roads.

These roads included motorbike tracks in state forest, beaches and river crossings.

King and Company has advised council of a useful defence against claims on non-maintained roads, based on Council’s funds and recourses.

Council is now awaiting a response from the LGAQ.

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