Unley car park brawl ends over major development

The end of a lengthy legal battle between Unley Council and Unley Shopping Centre’s owner means the council will push ahead with plans for an apartment and retail complex.

Jun 13, 2024, updated Jun 13, 2024
Unley Central is a proposed mixed-use development for the Unley Shopping Centre car park site. Image supplied.

Unley Central is a proposed mixed-use development for the Unley Shopping Centre car park site. Image supplied.

All legal claims against Unley Council by the shopping centre’s owner about alleged easements across council-owned property have been dismissed by the Supreme Court, bringing to a close the nearly five-year legal stoush.

The council said the win meant it could continue with its Unley Central master plan: a multi-level, mixed-used development including apartments, retail outlets, offices and a cinema complex to sit on the Unley Shopping Centre car park.

Unley Shopping Centre owner Duke Group has also been ordered to pay the council’s legal costs for the last of three legal cases.

Duke Group launched its first case against the council in October 2019 , involving a dispute over the Unley Shopping Centre car park.

The property owner claimed that under terms of an “historic agreement” the land was held “on trust” and had to remain a car park.

The case went to the High Court which denied Duke Group leave to appeal after both the South Australian Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal found that no such agreement existed in perpetuity, and that there was no impediment on the redevelopment of the land.

The second legal case saw Duke Group issue another claim alleging the council had accessed water and electricity from the Unley Shopping Centre to service public amenities in the adjacent Soldiers Memorial Gardens. The parties settled this case after almost three years in court, with a $40,000 payment made to Duke Group.

The third and most recent legal challenge was over the council car park, where Duke Group claimed various property easements, such as right-of-way and “fire safety” easements, could have prevented the council from developing Unley Central.

The Supreme Court found in favour of the council, with Duke Group ordered to pay its legal costs.

Unley Council plans for Unley Central include apartments, shops, offices and a cinema complex. Image supplied.

The council said the three legal challenges had “substantially delayed project plans”.

Unley Mayor Michael Hewitson said he was pleased all legal actions had been resolved, but that it was “disappointing that a resolution could not have been reached sooner”.

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“Multiple claims made by the Unley Shopping Centre owners over four years have seen our council expend significant time, energy, and ratepayers’ money on contesting them,” he said.

“The courts have vindicated the decision to defend our position and ordered the Duke Group to meet most of our costs.

“While it has been a protracted process, this latest decision by the Court will free the way for a new development at the heart of Unley that will benefit residents, visitors, and our business community.”

The council would now push ahead with its development plans.

“This means we can move forward and fulfil our vision for an integrated mixed-use development on a single site – a vertical precinct – that will activate our town centre and transform the heart of Unley into one of Adelaide’s leading retail, entertainment and residential destinations,” Hewitson said.

“This exciting development will breathe life into the centre of our city.

“I believe it will encourage an influx of younger people and offer older residents who want to live in Unley opportunities for different housing options, so they can downsize and reside in a place they know and love.”

Speaking to InDaily, Duke Group’s lawyer Greg Griffin said his team would not rule out an appeal on the latest decision.

“It was a very complex matter dealing with areas of property law – most of which have not dealt with by the courts for a long time,” Griffin said.

“It’s a lengthy judgment and we will go through it with the team that’s been working on it for three or four years, and then we’ll make a decision as to taking it further.

“We’re certainly not ruling out an appeal.”

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