Tensions spill over in billboard row

By Bernard Orsman

Tensions over the proposed ban on billboards in central Auckland spilled over yesterday when three city councillors walked out after a lawyer acting for the industry told them to "pack your bags and leave the room".

Lawyer David Kirkpatrick attended the planning and regulatory committee to give councillors some pointed legal advice but only succeeded in sparking a fierce debate and walkout by three councillors on the billboard and signs bylaw panel.

At one point, Mr Kirkpatrick told councillors who might not want to hear his presentation to "get up, pack your bags and leave the room".

That is exactly what councillors Faye Storer, Graeme Mulholland and Neil Abel did.

They said they were unimpressed by his behaviour and said their impartiality could be compromised by taking his advice before public hearings on the new bylaw next month.

Tensions have been building between the billboard industry and councillors since the council announced a bylaw review in December banning billboards in central Auckland and other retail strips. The review also includes stringent new rules for signage across the city.

The billboard industry fears the ban could spread to 575 sites across the city and lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Billboards have gone up attacking anti-billboard politicians.

This led councillor Vern Walsh, who featured in a cheeky Oggi billboard, to say that if he were not convinced to back the ban before the ad campaign, he was now.

Calls have been made to dump councillor Glenda Fryer as chairwoman of the panel. She has slammed "really big, ugly billboards" in the city but denied holding anti-billboard and anti-sign views.

Pressure on Ms Fryer did lead the council to appoint an independent commissioner to join five councillors on the panel.

Mr Kirkpatrick's opening line yesterday that he was a "mere barrister" representing the Outdoor Advertising Association irritated several councillors who wondered how he could make a general presentation on "good process for governance and bylaw reviews" on one hand and represent the billboard industry on the other.

Despite assurances from city planning manager John Duthie that nothing Mr Kirkpatrick was going to say could stop councillors sitting on the hearings panel, the three councillors chose to leave the room.

Mr Kirkpatrick then delivered his presentation, telling councillors, "Starting with a conclusion and then working backwards is a fallacious method of analysis in any situation."

Mr Abel later said Mr Kirkpatrick made it clear he was the go-between for the billboard industry. "The way I perceived it, the billboard industry was telling councillors how to do their job. It was totally objectionable."

The council has received 1748 submissions on the bylaw review, of which 989 are opposed to banning billboards, 261 opposed to the signs bylaw and 272 opposed to both.

Those wanting to make verbal submissions to the panel total 488.

Billboard and signs bylaw

* Billboards to be banned in Queen St valley from Hobson St to Anzac Ave, including Britomart, Karangahape Rd and Viaduct Harbour. Ban also applies to retail areas such as Newmarket, Parnell and Ponsonby.

* Tough new rules include no signage above verandah level and verandah fascia signs no higher than 30cm.

* Businesses will have 18 months to comply with the new rules.

* Public submissions will be heard at six days of hearings from April 16, by a panel of five councillors and one independent commissioner.

* Full council to make final decision in May.

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