THESE days compensation seems increasingly to apply to collective personal disasters: the M17 tragedy, Mr Fluffy house asbestos, along with the enduring third party motor vehicle insurance claims and the workforce accidents.
Nobody would dispute the worth of such payments; however, there has arisen an extension of the concept to incorporate people disadvantaged surprisingly by what can be regarded as a more general social benefit.
The issue was raised in the magazine “Policy” (spring, 2010) under the heading of “Back Yard Bonus” (BYB) as a possible solution to the “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) objections so frequently raised in our crowded environment.
Putting BYB in a suburban context, why should some people without being compensated be asked to accept something which disadvantages them, but provides an overall social benefit?
It’s not about planned and documented developments, rather the new motorway carved out beside your rear fence. While never identified as such it is unquestionably of benefit to thousands of commuters, but leaves you with daily noise and fumes and probable loss of property value.
Governments are not the only offenders. The private sector constructing high-rise accommodation blocking your sunlight could be unexpected, because although you knew and accepted housing would occupy the site the authorities altering height restrictions was not anticipated.
Then there is the co-operation between the public and private sectors of which change of purpose for land is another perennial.
A case can be made every time for action resulting in the general social good.
Irrespective of overall good or bad outcomes, some people are disadvantaged by loss of an amenity be it view, peace, clean air or whatever else encouraged them to buy or build in the location.
Granted some people might accept the changed circumstances, again for a variety of reasons, but this should not obviate the responsibility for compensation. Just because an owner doesn’t sell the property, the principle remains the same.
Before now these sorts of claims have been limited to electricity high tension, wind and solar power and other rural incursions, but with increased population, BYB will become attractive in our cities.
But we are often dealing with intangibles here, so how does one measure adequate compensation for the few affected by actions taken for the greater benefit of the many?
Seems like a fertile new field of law.
Greg Cornwell is a former Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly.