A QC asks: ‘Where’s the fire?’

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

Warn­ing to sub­ur­ban ratepay­ers: The much ac­claimed, seem­ingly end­less Auck­land Uni­tary Plan process could be a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter in the mak­ing.

Not, of course, if you’re a coun­cil­lor brain­washed by the mayor and/ or his over­staffed PR depart­ment pour­ing out a tsunami of pro­pa­ganda in re­cent months. If so, you may hail the plan process as a rem­edy to make not-so-su­per Auck­land bet­ter in the very long run.

Or if you’re a cor­po­rate big name and your company’s pock­ets are among the deep­est in town, you may be con­fi­dent that your business will get its way for a rosy fu­ture.

Sally Hughes, con­vener for 63 con­cerned re­gional groups from Sil­verdale to Franklin, was in Ire­land with rel­a­tives when I spoke to her.

She’s em­phatic that the sub­mit­ting process favours cor­po­rate and pro­fes­sional groups at the ex­pense of other much less pre­ten­tious sub­ur­ban or­gan­i­sa­tions.

‘‘Peo­ple who are work­ing must so of­ten have dif­fi­cul­ties find­ing time to draft and de­liver sub­mis­sions, cop­ing with mind-bog­gling and seem­ingly end­less and spe­cialised pro­cesses.’’

It’s no fault of the gov­ern­men­tap­pointed panel head­ing the process. They are able and ex­pe­ri­enced but must follow the brief they’ve been given.

In early sub­mis­sions, Paul Ca­vanagh QC – a veteran of 50 years in­volve­ment in lo­cal body is­sues – warned:

‘‘This hear­ings process is deeply flawed and cum­ber­some and could fail to pro­duce a qual­ity plan for Auck­lan­ders …

‘‘Timeta­bles

change

daily

so sub­mit­ters with a 10 minute speak­ing time must check and dou­ble check …

‘‘Res­i­dents and spe­cial in­ter­est groups are by far the most dis­en­fran­chised be­cause they are much less able to fund crit­i­cal ex­perts – lawyers, plan­ners, en­gi­neers …

‘‘This plan is a first, there is no prece­dent to rely on … the Auck­land re­gion is be­ing made to ex­per­i­ment with the coun­try’s largest city, the pow­er­house of the New Zealand econ­omy …

‘‘Auck­lan­ders de­serve treat­ment.

‘‘They de­serve a plan that they can proudly take own­er­ship of.

‘‘This must re­quire them be­ing ac­tive in a process lead­ing to its adop­tion.

‘‘There is no le­git­i­mate jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for cen­tral gov­ern­ment to ap­ply such pres­sure … be­cause any re­view of the task that it faces makes it clear that this tar­get is sim­ply not achiev­able – un­less the rights of sub­mit­ters are so con­strained that there is real dan­ger the right to a fair hear­ing is ir­re­triev­ably com­pro­mised …

‘‘Why the haste – where’s the fire?’’

bet­ter

His wife, Chris­tine, for eight years a young plan­ner, in­clud­ing time with the old Auck­land City Coun­cil, chairs the Herne Bay res­i­dents’ group.

She had re­cent first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the process in­volv­ing pre­hear­ing meet­ings, ex­pert con­fer­enc­ing, me­di­a­tion and full panel hear­ings stretch­ing ahead un­til that July 2016 dead­line to hear all the par­ties and de­liver its de­ci­sions.

‘‘At a me­di­a­tion I at­tended, around 20 lawyers were each rep- re­sent­ing be­tween one and 20 big business clients, such as Hous­ing New Zealand, Ports of Auck­land and the Prop­erty Coun­cil. At best, there were three res­i­dent groups.

‘‘For more than 50 years, res­i­dents have had the right to a say. This is seis­mic shift away from pro­tect­ing res­i­den­tial ar­eas and peo­ple’s homes.

‘‘The plan rep­re­sents a dra­matic change in when and where res­i­dents will be no­ti­fied about a de­vel­op­ment next door. There will be far fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for a say about the shape and form of that de­vel­op­ment.

‘‘The In­de­pen­dent Hear­ings Panel process is patently un­fair to res­i­dents who are out­num­bered 10 to one by ma­jor le­gal firms and big business in­ter­ests.

‘‘Most res­i­dents are bliss­fully un­aware of the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion and Auck­land Coun­cil is to blame,’’ she says.

Uni­tary plan: Is it cause for cel­e­bra­tion or a dis­as­ter in the mak­ing?

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