Auckland Council’s bid to fast-track the draft Auckland Unitary Plan by removing the public’s appeal rights to the Environment Court has drawn fire from heritage advocates and senior resource management lawyers.
The council fears a large number of appeals will slow implementation of the rule book for the Auckland Plan’s aims for supply and affordability of housing and economic growth.
Environment Minister Amy Adams said yesterday officials were looking at possible ways of streamlining the process to reduce cost and increase certainty but no decision on an alternative had been decided.
She said any changes must ensure the community had a full say in developing the Unitary Plan.
A court case relies on competing evidence from submitters, tested through lawyers’ cross examination. Appeals filed are put through mediation in an effort to solve them without needing a costly hearing.
Heritage advocate Allan Matson said his celebrated rescue of the 1855 Fitzroy Hotel from a council demolition order would not have been possible under the proposed no appeals system.
“If we trust the council to represent developers and the public that’s fine.
“But if the council and developers want to fiddle things about then we want the ability to hold them accountable. The appeal system is transparent,” he said.
Paul Cavanagh, QC, of the Herne Bay Residents’ Association, has asked the minister to scrap the idea of “stripping 1.5 million residents of their rights to question the plan”.
He said there was no justification for eliminating the rights of the region’s special interest groups, commercial interests which aided its economy and residents’ associations.
Leaving the planning to politicians and officials was a recipe for disaster.
“There is a very good reason for the planning process – it’s about having checks in place that test the robustness of the plan.”
The Property Council’s advisers say the Super City council should be improving its own procedures which caused delays and try for a two-year limit on the appeal process.
Lawyer Russell Bartlett said the Environment Court was the place to decide acceptable rules for high-density housing and the location of the rural urban boundary.
Auckland Council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley said the council made no criticism of the court in seeking a tailor-made streamlined process for the biggest planning process in New Zealand history.
Written by Wayne Thompson
Published by: The New Zealand Herald