The Government has set up a board of inquiry to consider the proposed new prison in South Auckland - allowing it to bypass the usual resource consents process that is subject to appeals to the Environment Court.
Earlier this week Auckland Mayor Len Brown signalled his support for the board, but he was challenged by Manurewa Local Board chairman Daniel Newman, who said local views on the would be better heard through the normal resource consent process.
The prison is the second major project in Auckland which the Government wants rushed through its consenting phase. The first was the for the $1.4 billion Waterview motorway project.
Environment Minister Nick Smith announced the board this afternoon, saying it was the best option. Other options were the normal council process and referring the matter directly to the Environment Court.
"The application is nationally significant due to the size of the project, the importance of coping with the projected prison population rise, that it will be used by more than one region and the wide public interest in the project," Dr Smith said.
"The disadvantage of the council process was that as a designation, the council only makes a recommendation and the final decision is for the Minister of Corrections. The Environment Court process is more formal than a Board of Inquiry and would limit participation by citizens wanting to be heard without legal representation.
"The Board of Inquiry is the best process for this application in that it is independent of Ministers, will enable communities to have their say and will deliver a decision within nine months."
The Department of Corrections' plans to build a new 1500-bed men's prison under a public-private partnership on the vacant part of the site of the Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility at Wiri, Manukau. Corrections must get approval to build on the site.
The board will be chaired by Environment Judge Melanie Harland. Members of the board include Deputy Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court Caren Fox, resource management consultant David Hill, former Manukau City Council Chief Executive Leigh Auton, former Auckland Regional Councillor Bill Burrill.
The boards decision cannot be appealed to the Environment Court, and appeals to the High Court can only be on points of law.
The prison, planned to be running by 2015, would be the first in New Zealand to be designed, built and operated under a public-private partnership.