OPINION: Auckland Council wants to 'fast track' the new Auckland Unitary Plan and is working with the Ministry for the Environment to strip more than 1.5 million residents of their rights to question the plan.
In simple terms we believe the Council is proposing to eliminate large chunks of the 'planning process' from the 'roll out' of the new Auckland Plan, especially those bits where ratepayers can have a 'meaningful say'.
Half of the submission process could be axed for example, with council hearings drastically pared down, led by a retired judge and supported by politicians and 'hand picked' commissioners - with limited time for residents to present their case.
Worse still, once the council decides on a particular issue, there will be no right of appeal to the Environment Court to have that issue reheard, except on a point of law.
The council is also, we believe, proposing to replace these critical chunks of the process with extensive 'token' consultation which it will run almost right up to the Local Government elections in late 2013, pushing council hearings out until well after voting.
Herne Bay Residents Association Inc (HBRAI) member and senior counsel in resource management Paul Cavanagh QC says the council's proposed planning process is deeply flawed.
"Extending the period of consultation and giving residents and interested groups more time to discuss the content of the new Auckland Plan is no guarantee that the council will listen and act on residents' concerns. Meaningful dialogue is solely reliant on two threats - being voted out of office, which is why council don't want to reveal the new plan until after the election, and the threat of an appeal.
"There is no justification for eliminating the rights of residents from Orewa in the north to Franklin in the south, special interest groups, such as the Heritage Coalition, commercial interests who grow and sustain the regional economy and residents' associations. They all have a legitimate right to comment on the future of our city and they must have a meaningful say in the Plan. To leave the planning to the politicians and planners without a right of appeal is a recipe for disaster," he said.
Fast-tracking the new plan will have devastating consequences for many communities. For residents in areas dedicated to, for example, 'intensification' or high density development, like Onehunga and Takapuna, while they
may disagree with the Plan, they will have no way of stopping development. Intensification within the current urban area is a key platform of the Plan and there will be many low rise communities shocked to learn that high rise buildings are coming soon to their neighbourhood - and they're unstoppable.
HBRAI treasurer Julia Cahill says it's all about the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, some politicians and planning bureaucrats thinking they know what's best for all Aucklanders.
"This is a new council and an entirely new structure and we think the plan to 'fast track' the Plan is ill advised. This council simply has not earned sufficient public trust to justify the elimination of their rights to question the future shape, form and make up of their communities and city.
"There's a very good reason for the planning process - it's all about having checks in place that test the robustness of the plan. It's also about engaging residents so they can share their local knowledge with planners and ensure their communities' needs are met in the Plan. Not having a say will mean we end up with an 'untested' plan which will impact on the city for 20 years.
"We also need to ask the obvious question. If going by NZ Herald reports, the Council is so confident of the Plan and believe it is what Aucklanders are in their words, 'crying out for' - why is it so frightened of the public response," she said.
Those behind the change
Driving the 'planning process change' is a council group called the Political Working Party (PWP) which we believe includes the following politicians, Mr Brown, Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, and Local Board Chairs Shale Chambers (Waitemata), Mr Bob Howard (Rodney), Lindsay Waugh (Kaipatiki), Derek Battersby (Whau) and John McCracken (Otara-Papatoetoe).
Character Coalition Member and Chair of the Western Bays Residents Association Incorporated Geoff Houtman says he's already had a taste of the Council's 'we know best' attitude.
"At a recent Character Coalition meeting with the Mayor, while Len Brown was receptive to our concern about the loss of heritage and character buildings in Auckland, he made a couple of extremely concerning comments," said Geoff. "The Mayor said there were three areas of the Plan which are simply non-negotiable and Council would not budge on - intensification, up zoning and no appeal rights. This is a clear signal Council won't listen."
* Note: Christine Cavanagh is married to Paul Cavanagh
ABOUT THE AUCKLAND UNITARY PLAN
WHAT'S THE PLAN? The Auckland Unitary plan will be Auckland's rulebook for what can and can't be built and where, and has a critical role to play in bringing the region's 30-year vision - set out in the Auckland Plan - to life.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM It will integrate the plans of eight former councils into one.
WHEN A draft Auckland Unitary Plan will be available in March 2013, when public consultation will begin.
WHY THE FAST TRACK Council says the city doesn't have time or the resources for endless legal battles when it needs to solve a housing crisis and build economic growth for Auckland.
WEB Unitary Plan