Plan change’s ‘sorry history’ criticised
Some tough criticism has been taken on the chin by the Auckland Council over its handling of a controversial plan change.
The Environment Court has described the council’s handling of Plan Change 163 as a ‘‘sorry history’’ of procrastination, inactivity and procedural delay.
Plan Change 163 aimed to protect and enhance the qualities of certain residential areas. It dates back to 2007 when the former Auckland City Council moved to protect the character of parts of Mt Albert, Herne Bay, Epsom, One Tree Hill, Parnell, Remuera, Kohimarama and St Heliers.
But incorrect protections were placed on hundreds of homes meaning owners were left to battle the council for years for the rights to alter their properties.
The Environment Court decision results in roughly 2500 out of nearly 7000 homes in the residential 2 zone having protection rules applied. The residential 2 zones include rows of pre1940 buildings set in an open park-like atmosphere generally with large front yards and often mature landscaping and trees. Most houses date from the early to mid1900s.
But judge Jeff Smith says in the decision the court was ‘‘disturbed’’ to hear the council had still been applying an earlier version that meant all houses were covered by the protection rules.
The decision includes a chapter entitled ‘‘ anatomy of delay’’ which charts the progress of the appeals process. Delays were still occurring as recently as 2012.
‘‘In our view this case displays a lack of will by the council to reduce or resolve the appeal,’’ the decision states.
‘‘It has progressed only by the constant intervention of the court. It would have been resolved at a fraction of the cost and many years earlier if it had proceeded to an early hearing.’’
Mayor Len Brown concedes it has been an ‘‘ugly’’ process and that the judges comments were warranted.
He says with its Unitary Plan the council intends to make the rules around heritage much simpler.
‘‘That particularly was a pretty hairy one to inherit from the Auckland City Council but having had it in discussion for four years and in a legal process for four years we had to basically see it through,’’ he says.
‘‘So what we’ve found was a lack of clarity around heritage buildings and the preservation and or destruction of them if they were required to be moved off-site by the owner’s desire to redevelop their land.
Mr Brown says the process has highlighted the need for ‘‘overarching rules’’ to deal with heritage issues.
‘‘And so that’s now exactly what we’ve done with the unitary plan – one set of rules around heritage character buildings and it’s much cleaner,’’ he says.
‘‘To take seven years – ugly. The judges reflections are probably fair, given the long history of this and my view is that our council’s processes particularly around issues of resource management should include much more front end discussion and that’s what we’ve done with the unitary plan. We want pre-applications, we want stuff sorted out before anyone lodges an application and we want to give a fast yes or a fast no.
‘‘We don’t want to darken the doors of the Environment Court anywhere near as much as we used to in the good old days.’’
Character streetscape: Plan Change 163 aimed to protect the qualities of certain residential areas like Allendale Rd in Mt Albert.