Council wins battle over Albany

By Anne Gibson

The North Shore City Council has beaten a challenge by shopping centre owner Westfield over the future of Albany.

The Environment Court has issued a decision backing the council's plans for the area.

Westfield opposed part of the plan, but the council's former senior environmental policy adviser, John Duguid, said the court had vindicated the council.

Duguid, who has shifted to Auckland City, said that before he left that a commercial group had opposed plans for Albany.

"Appeals were lodged with the Environment Court against the plan change, some of which were resolved through agreements reached last year.

"Appeals by Cornerstone Group, General Distributors, National Trading Co and Westfield NZ were unable to be fully resolved through negotiations," he said.

So the matter went to the Environment Court, headed by Judge David Sheppard, in December and January and a decision was given at the end of last month.

Duguid said the strongest challenge came from Westfield, which said the plan had serious defects and should be withdrawn.

But the court had said this would be "an extreme measure which should be taken only because of radical and irreparable defect or invalidity, and declined Westfield's appeal.

"Westfield contended that the plan change made excessive provision for retailing in the Albany centre," he said. "The court did not accept Westfield's argument.

Westfield NZ deputy director Justin Lynch was philosophical about the ruling.

"The court's ruling has been given and we have been provided with a copy," he said. "We are focussed on delivery the best shopping experience for Albany."

The first stage of its shopping centre would open at the end of August.

Duguid said Westfield had claimed the plan would cut Albany in half.

"Westfield contended that the plan would enable development of two disjointed centres rather than a single well-integrated centre. The main concern related to the lack of a requirement for a road to be constructed through the council-owned lake area.

"The court held that the plan change enabled a pedestrian street of the kind and the range of activities that would provide a sufficient direct connection across the council land from the Business 4 zone to the proposed main street to add to their integration.

"The Westfield shopping centre currently under construction is in the Business 4 zone. The court also concluded that the plan change is not flawed for want of integration."

Westfield had said development in the northern part of the Albany centre should be staged, but the court had declined to direct the council to amend the plan change to include a staging requirement for several reasons, including that such a change would not be in accordance with the purpose and principles of the Resource Management Act.

Westfield had also asked that an area of land east of Don McKinnon Dr and south of McClymonts Rd be rezoned Business 11B from 11A.

Greater restrictions are placed on retail development in Business 11B than in Business 11A.

But the court had not accepted that a Business 11A zoning would delay development or have any adverse effect on the council's main street concept.

The plan change classified large format developments - those exceeding 2000sq m - as a discretionary activity in the Business 11A zone.

General Distributors, which owns land in the Business 11A zone, asked that large format developments be classed as a controlled activity. National Trading Company wanted large format retailing classed as a non-complying activity.

Westfield wanted large format retailing classed as a limited discretionary activity if it was between 2000 sq m and 5000 sq m, and a discretionary activity above this threshold.

The city council can decline applications for limited discretionary, discretionary and non-complying activities, but not controlled activities.

The council modified its position before the end of the court hearing.

Its new position was similar to that of Westfield, and was supported by Cornerstone and General Distributors.

The court agreed with the changes sought by Westfield.

Several of the development rules for the Business 11A zone were challenged by the parties in their appeals.

The controls related to the alignment of the proposed main street, frontage controls for the main street, the relationship between development and the council-owned lake area and the relationship between development and Don McKinnon Dr and Munro Lane.

The court concluded that some changes were required to the development rules for the Business 11A zone.

The council had indicated during the hearing that it supported most of the amendments now required by the court.

PLANNING ALBANY

* Environment Court ruling on Albany issued.

* Commercial interests challenged plan.

* Westfield NZ opposed parts of plan.

* It vows to open first mall's first stage in two months.

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