Farmer at Dawn
Farmer at Dawn

North QLD farmer sues own lawyer over wetlands bungle

A CANE farmer who only realised part of his newly bought property was on protected wetlands after environment officers came knocking is suing his former lawyer for alleged negligence.

John Finlayson Peebles purchased his Toobanna property in 2014 and soon after deposited 5000 sqm of spoil material to improve a section of the property for farming.

In court documents filed in the Townsville Supreme Court in October, Mr Peebles says he was threatened with an enforcement notice to remove the soil by the former Department of Environment and Heritage as he was in breach of legislation.

According to the court documents, a development permit was needed to deposit the material as there were restrictions on "high impact earthworks".

In the claim, Mr Peebles alleges his solicitor at the time, Jayson Waldon, did not carry out, or recommend a search of wetland protection areas in Ingham.

Mr Peebles argues his then solicitor should have known there were wetlands in the region and if they were found it would limit the use and development of the land.

Mr Waldon was in "breach of the duty" as his solicitor overseeing the purchase of the cane farm, according to the claim.

"As a firm of legal practitioners with a cane farming practice having read the contract and knowing the purpose for which the land was being acquired … would have and should have advised the plaintiff to carry out a search …," the claim says.

In responding to the show cause notice issued by the State Government, Mr Peebles claims he had to pay $3500 in legal fees, which was expected to rise by more than $5000.

Additionally, he claims he was at risk of having to remove the spoil, which would result in "loss and damage".

"The plaintiff would not have received the spoil material onto lot 13 without … a development permit; or at all … had the defendant carried out the wetlands search and advised him that he could not do so without a development permit," the claim says.

The claim states damages were still being assessed.

A Department of Environment and Science spokesman said it had reviewed the information received from Mr Peebles and after consideration "decided not to issue an enforcement notice for the removal of the material".

Mr Waldon has not responded to the claim and he could not be contacted.