His plan was to mobilise like-minded landowners and fight off pressure groups and dissenting locals to achieve a re-development of the historic riverside village.

Wakeboarding is popular on the Hawkesbury RiverOne of the large parcels on which Keith Johnson’s Hawkesbury River subdivision near Windsor west of Sydney depended, was that of David and Chris Thornton.

In 2002 the Thorntons granted Johnson’s group an option for $200k to allow it to buy their site for $10 million.

Initially the option was up until 2006 but was extended until April 2013.

The rezoning of all parcels including “the Thornton lands” was eventually gazetted in August 2006.

Although the Thornton lands never did become part of the land under the Johnson fold “it is quite clear that for a number of years all the parties proceeded on the basis that in due course” they would.

Among the many necessary expenses incurred, the Johnson group paid about $1.6 million to fulfill the developer’s obligations in connection with the rezoning.

Rather than exercise the option, Johnson sued the Thornton for the $1.32 million increase in value of their land.

They claimed that sum for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

Justice Peter Young of the Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled however that there could be no damages because there was never any agreement or promise other than the option itself.

But could a claim for unjust enrichment be made out?

The Thorntons contended that because they have no immediate intention of selling, any “increase in value is a paper profit only and with changing economic conditions it may increase in value or it may decrease”.

That was only one of many difficulties that the argument faced.

“There may well have been an enrichment,” ruled Justice Young. “But there is no material to show that that was unjust”.

Johnson Property Group Pty Ltd v Thornton [2015] NSWSC 1389, Young AJA 22/09/2015
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