Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Council aims to get objectors on-side early to speed hearings

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse. Photo / Richard Robinson
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse. Photo / Richard Robinson

Unitary Plan aims to replace development policies of eight former local bodies The Auckland Council will try to speed up introduction of a new Super City planning rule book by getting potential objectors on side before the public submission and hearings process late next year.

It is also talking to the Government about removing the Auckland public's right to appeal to the Environment Court against its provisions after deciding what goes in the plan.

This week, the council supported a beefed-up promotion and discussion during the plan's drafting but is yet to agree on shortening the legal process for those who do not like it.

The so-called Unitary Plan is supposed to be a simplified online interactive guide for property owners on where and how development can occur.

But after more than a year's work and a flood of directions from the Auckland Plan, councillors and the public have not seen objectives, policies, provisions and maps.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said she was aware that communities were concerned and keen to be involved.

Councillors said people sought assurances on concerns such as the path of high-voltage power pylons, protection for heritage and character buildings, and locations of new settlements and schools.

Communities wondered whether their hard-won zonings would survive in the move to a single plan to replace the district plans and regional policies of the eight former councils and form a consistent set of regional development rules.

Mrs Hulse said a working party of councillors met weekly with planning officials and faced a busy time if the 21 local boards were to get a discussion document in September.

"We will need a good community process of enhanced engagement to work our way through.

"It has to be fair and transparent.

"We must do it with and alongside the community; not do it to them.

"This results in litigation, angst and anger and a bad time all round."

Chief planning officer Roger Blakeley said the council asked the Government last year to change the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Act to ensure the Unitary Plan became operative sooner than it would under present law.

The growth directions of the Auckland Plan had to be delivered as soon as possible.

As an example of how appeals delayed a process, the Rodney District Plan took 10 years to settle.

Dr Blakeley said that talks were going on with Environment Ministry officials about the request.

They had made it clear any law change would have to come with a "highly collaborative upfront process" in developing the plan.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Environment Minister Amy Adams said that while the Government saw merit in exploring ways to deliver a quality unitary plan in a short timeframe, it had yet to make any decisions about amending legislation.

The council proposes a period between next month and next June in which to draft a plan which responds to feedback.

When a draft was published in September 2013, there would be three months for submissions, a "friends of submitters" service, and workshops to narrow down thorny issues before the statutory hearing of submissions.

Senior environmental lawyer Derek Nolan said he strongly supported the proposal for much better engagement to produce a high-quality plan.

Mr Nolan suggests ways of achieving a plan in four years in a paper on the website of law firm Russell McVeagh.

"We believe industry and the public are concerned at having no appeal rights when everyone else in New Zealand does."

RULE BOOK FOR AUCKLAND
* One Unitary Plan, paper and online versions.
* Eight district plans and regional policies combined.
* March 2013 draft discussion document for informal feedback.
* September 2013 public notification.
* Three months for submissions.

- NZ Herald

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