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Morris Versus Valuer-General

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On December 20, 2011, the Land Court of Queensland dismissed an appeal by Roma Morris against the Valuer General’s July 20, 2010 valuation of her Brisbane home.

The appeal marked the latest in a series of legal battles between Morris and the Valuer General over the value of the Brisbane property, with a central factor being the role of a protected fig tree and its impact on the potential to build on the property.

The property in question is Morris’s 2,039 square metre property, which is located around five kilometres northeast of Brisbane’s central business district. The property contains a large residential dwelling, a swimming pool and a large, mature white fig tree.

The tree at the centre of all the drama has protected status by way of a Vegetation Protection Order (VPO). Under the Order, no structure can be built on the property that would in any way harm either the tree itself of its root system, which is believed to extend underneath a significant portion of the property.

In July 2010, the Valuer General carried out a valuation of the property, which determined its value to be $1,575,000. This figure was arrived at going on the basis that the property would be worth $2,100,000 if not for approximately 25% of the land being seriously impacted by the protected tree and its root system.

Morris argued that the root system of the white fig tree had undermined more than 80 per cent of the property, making further development impossible, and therefore that the value should be set at no more than $100,000.

Expert witnesses were called, including arborist and tree services specialist Jason-Jay Fletcher, and valuation expert Ms. Manners, neither of whom presented anything to seriously bring into question the original valuation by the Valuer General. A report compiled by the late John Mulholland was also entered as evidence, though with less weight due to the inability to have Mr. Mulholland cross-examined.

It was clearly established that while the subject tree does take up a significant amount of the property, there still exists options for building on the property. It was also established that while the subject tree is still most definitely alive and ‘growing’, it wasn’t expanding in size as it had been up until recently, making the spectre of a total takeover by the tree and its roots less of a realistic threat.

While throughout the course of the case it was evident that the impact of the white fig tree of the Morris property was significantly hampering the ability to build, the property was still in fact an extremely valuable one, even taking into account the impact that the tree is having.

In concluding, his honour W.L. Cochrane found that while the onus of proving the valuation to be wrong rested with the appellant, they had been unable to do so with any real conviction, and therefore there was no choice but to reject the appeal.

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