What’s be­hind the re­volt in the sub­urbs

Central Leader - - OPINION -

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.’’

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