A QC asks: ‘Where’s the fire?’
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 …
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?’’
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?