What’s behind the revolt in the suburbs
They slogged away for seven years, spending nearly $500,000 on experts to help their cause in a case that took them to court for three years.
It was what seemed a simple but important cause.
They wanted to safeguard regional park land in their area and to establish a balance between parks, the marine reserve and the land around them.
When the Long Bay-Okura Great Park Society won, the judgment was applauded and studied by legal and conservation observers as a noteworthy precedent.
Society convener Chris Bettany remembers the relief from what had been a terrible burden.
They’d all hardly caught their crusading breath one year and five months later when the Auckland Unitary Plan reared its head.
They realised they were back to square one.
This time, the issues involved are so complex that they originally faced a programme of 20 hearings, ultimately trimmed to 11.
They gladly make the same demands on members to prepare and defend a submission, to finance expert help when needed.
One major difference in the repeat campaign – it links them with other widely spread local groups.
Example: The Auckland 2040 group has formed an alliance with the Character Coalition to ‘‘represent the interests of a wide range of community groups who are passionate about Auckland and concerned about the implications of the Unitary Plan for its future’’.
That coalition alone involves something like 100 widely spread resident and special interest groups from Milford to Grafton, Orewa to Epsom, Freemans Bay to Bucklands Beach, Waterview to Howick, Grey Lynn to Muriwai – and more.
Their concerns: That the proposed Unitary Plan is effectively an ‘‘assault on the suburbs’’.
The council is advocating high density residential developments over much of suburban Auckland.
This change from the leafy suburbs with stand-alone housing to intensive residential development is generating a residents’ revolt across the widespread city.
Auckland 2040 is being inundated with calls for help from groups and individuals wanting guidance on the process as well as the substance of submissions.
They’ve printed advice, ‘‘ How to Determine Which Hearings You Need to Attend’’, and held an overfilled workshop. That’s how serious their concerns are over the issues.
Auckland 2040 president, spokesman and submitter Richard Burton, previously a planning consultant for more than 30 years, says: ‘‘When the draft plan was published, it drew more than 20,000 submissions. The council was expected to take considerable time considering them, determining what changes were desirable and refining the draft for release as a reasonably polished document.
‘‘Unfortunately, this didn’t happen and an incomplete document concerned many people and resulted in nearly 10,000 submissions and many further submissions.’’
The council’s own submission amounts to some 5000 pages (or so he’s been told).
The Independent Hearing Panel hearing submissions – an Environment Court judge and several expert members – has until July 2016 to report back to the Auckland Council with its recommendations.
That’s an extremely short timeframe given that current city plans for a very much smaller Auckland took 10 years to resolve.
This pressure is causing huge difficulties and a highly compressed hearing process.
Burton: ‘‘The hearing process for lay submitters is not only extremely confusing, it’s extremely intimidating.
‘‘To a lay person, navigating prehearing meetings, expert conferencing and then the formality of a hearing with potential crossexamination is a daunting prospect.
‘‘Many groups and individuals are finding the process just too much and are giving up, notwithstanding that their submissions might have real substance and should result in worthwhile changes.’’
Does the process give residents and lay submitters a fair say in the process?
The Independent Hearing Panel is doing its best but with the government-imposed 2016 deadline, the best resourced corporate submitters with expert advice have a huge advantage.
The risk is that they are the people who will have an undue say on how Auckland of the future develops. That might suit their corporate ambitions but not necessarily yours or mine. When will you and I be heard? In this column and/or on a Facebook campaign perhaps?
Richard Burton: ‘‘The hearing process for lay submitters is not only extremely confusing, it’s extremely intimidating.’’