Billboard ban - council ready to listen 'carefully'

By Bernard Orsman

Auckland City councillor Richard Northey has responded to claims that hearings on changes to billboard and signs rules will be a "shambles" by assuring submitters their views will be listened to carefully.

Several business groups have criticised the council for shutting out submitters from the hearings, not telling them when they will be heard and embarking on a "hurried shambles".

Under a bylaw review being led by the centre-left City Vision bloc, the council has proposed banning billboards in central Auckland and costly new signage rules for thousands of businesses. After overwhelming opposition to the proposals, officers have urged the council to show more leniency on signs and consider dropping the billboard ban.

Initially more than 400 submitters said they wanted to be heard, but only 114 confirmed that when the council wrote to them, and yesterday it released a list of their timeslots over the nine days of hearings, starting on Monday.

Opponents of the billboard changes, which make up the bulk of 1500 submitters opposed to the bylaws, have been given up to four hours to present their case to a panel of five councillors and urban designer Garth Falconer.

In order to deal with the heavy workload, the council decided that Mr Northey would chair the billboards panel and Councillor Glenda Fryer the signs panel. The membership of the panel will stay the same for both bylaws.

Employers and Manufacturers (Northern) chief executive Alasdair Thompson said the hearings process to date had been a "farce", with interested parties being told they would not be heard and people being told to wait for up to four hours to be heard.

"That is what happens to criminals waiting around outside a courtroom to be tried," Mr Thompson said.

Also critical of the process was the Newmarket Business Association and the Outdoor Advertising Association, which called it a "hurried process".

A council spokeswoman said due to data entry errors, about 20 submitters were incorrectly recorded as not wanting to speak at the hearing. The council regretted the error and wanted to reassure all submitters who had requested the opportunity to speak that they would be able to do so.

Mr Northey said he had played no role in drawing up the draft billboard changes. As panel chairman, he would be reading and studying keenly to come up with a decision to meet his objectives of promoting business and employment in Auckland against good urban design.

"All of the members [on the panel], including those who were involved in drawing up these draft bylaws, are going into it with an open mind and will listen carefully to practical suggestions about how what has been proposed can be improved."

The outcome "might be quite different" from that sent out for public consultation.

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