Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Dissenting planner kicked off 130-year-old cottage case

Number 18 Paget St in Freemans Bay. Photo / Dean Purcell
Number 18 Paget St in Freemans Bay. Photo / Dean Purcell

A council planner was dumped from a hotly debated heritage case after refusing to sign his name to approve demolition of a 130-year-old cottage in Freemans Bay, new evidence shows.

The latest twist in the heritage controversy follows the revelation that the resource consent application to demolish 18 Paget St was taken off council planner Jonathan Blackmore, who wanted to decline it, and given to consultant planner Brooke Dales, who sealed its fate.

A high-level council review of the case said Mr Blackmore was replaced because his team leader, Quentin Budd, was conscious of differing opinions within council and between the council and the owner's experts.

The review said Mr Blackmore and Mr Budd discussed the application on November 16 last year where Mr Budd outlined his opinion. Mr Blackmore prepared a letter stating he did not believe the application met the relevant assessment criteria, which was sent to the applicant.

The Herald has not seen the letter but the council has released two emails between Mr Blackmore and Mr Budd, dated November 16.

Mr Budd emailed Mr Blackmore at 2.34pm to say they needed to discuss the application via email or in person.

In a response an hour later, Mr Blackmore said: "I've thought about this one since our meeting and while I understand your opinion of the proposal, unfortunately I just don't think that I can truthfully sign my name to recommend approval on this one."

Mr Blackmore told Mr Budd he disagreed with the argument of the owner Wynnis Armour's quantity surveyor, Brian Maltby, that repairing the cottage would cost more than building a new house of a similar size.

Mr Budd said the assessment criteria stated the cost argument could only be considered in "rare" cases and it "is my opinion that this isn't one of those cases".

Within 24 hours of Mr Blackmore's email, Mr Budd, in consultation with his manager Ian Smallburn, replaced Mr Blackmore with Mr Dales.

On December 5, Mr Dales processed the demolition consent and recommended it be approved. It was formally approved by Mr Budd on December 8.

Yesterday, council chief executive Doug McKay said he was unable to comment on the emails or the handover because he was in the bush in the South Island without access to the information.

"I never saw anything in the report that was inappropriate or contrary to good process," he said.

The internal review by senior managers to Mr McKay did not detail the concerns Mr Budd had about Mr Blackmore, who was described as an intermediate planner with 3 years' experience.

When the report was released last week, Mr McKay and resource consent manager Heather Harris could not pinpoint the concerns of Mr Budd.

"There was a range of expert advice and opinion on the table from heritage experts, quantity surveyors ... and the team leader [Mr Budd] wasn't satisfied that [Mr Blackmore] had weighed all the information and completed a full assessment," said Ms Harris.

"In those circumstances, because there was different information, different opinions and different expert evidence on the table, he referred it to a second opinion and a more experienced planner."

Mr McKay said last week there was an element of judgment and subjectivity to applications to demolish pre-1940 houses in the Residential 1 zone.

- NZ Herald

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