The Court of Appeal in Minister for Land information v Seaton  NZCA 234 has held that the Minister of Land Information is permitted to acquire land that is either directly or indirectly required for a Government work. There is no reason to limit the scope of section 16 of the Public Works Act 1981 ("PWA") to land that is only directly required for the work.
In Seaton, the New Zealand Transport Agency ("NZTA"), a Crown entity, sought to widen part of State Highway 1 near Christchurch, including a section running alongside land owned by Ms Seaton. As part of the proposed road widening works, NZTA needed to move three electrical towers (owned by Transpower and Orion) and relocate them onto Seaton's land. Negotiations between NZTA and Ms Seaton broke down and the Minister subsequently issued a compulsory acquisition notice for easements to accommodate the towers.
Ms Seaton responded to the notice by filing judicial review proceedings, arguing that the Minister was entitled under the PWA only to acquire easements over land directly required for the road widening works. Alternatively, if the Minister were acting in accordance with proper powers under the PWA, Ms Seaton argued that the Minister had exercised his powers improperly as the easements sought were for the benefit of the power companies, not NZTA. The High Court found for Ms Seaton and agreed that the Minister had exercised his powers for an improper purpose to acquire easements on behalf of the power companies. However, on appeal by the Minister, the High Court's decision was overturned.
When considering whether the Minister was empowered under the PWA to acquire land only indirectly required for a Government work, the Court of Appeal observed that, while section 16 was not as precise as it could be, a restrictive interpretation would run contrary to the purpose and intent of the PWA. However, it is clear that the powers afforded by the PWA to acquire land are not unlimited. The Court considered that, as the PWA deals with the acquisition of privately owned land, there must be clear justification of the public interest for the taking. The land must be (when viewed objectively) "essential or reasonably necessary" for the purpose of the work, rather than desired in a more general respect.
On the issue of whether the Minister had acted improperly in acquiring easements for the benefit of the power companies (rather than NZTA), the Court also found in the Minster's favour on the basis that the proposed easements were not for the ultimate benefit of the power companies - they were needed to fulfil NZTA's objective of widening the roads, not to further any objective of Transpower or Orion. Again it was considered that there must be some limit on the powers to acquire land, although not necessarily that the Minister should be unable to acquire land in circumstances where it would ultimately be transferred to a third party. The Minister simply needed to show that, irrespective of whether the land would be transferred, it was required for the purpose of the Government work.