Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Secret plan papers kept from public

Len Brown promised greater transparency and openness when he came to office. Photo / Supplied
Len Brown promised greater transparency and openness when he came to office. Photo / Supplied

The Auckland Council is sitting on secret documents used to draw up a new planning rulebook for the city and instructed its top lawyer to keep them hidden from the public.

Mayor Len Brown and chief executive Doug McKay have rejected requests from the Herald to release background papers used by a political working party to develop the most important planning document in the history of Auckland.

The new rulebook - or Unitary Plan - sets out a new way of life for Auckland's 1.5 million residents that includes high-rise apartments and infill housing to cope with squeezing another 1 million people into the city.

But when the Herald sought the background papers on the heritage rules from Mr McKay under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, the council's general counsel Wendy Brandon refused to release the material. Requests for background papers on other issues would also be refused, she said.

She said the political working party was still meeting and it was important that councillors and Local Board members and officers who advised them were able to express their opinions and discuss options in a free and frank way.

Ms Brandon said the political working party debated and discussed officer reports informally before making recommendations to the Auckland Plan committee where issues were discussed in public. Records show the committee normally rubber-stamps the work of the political working party, which meets behind closed doors.

The political working party includes 10 councillors, nine Local Board chairs and two members of the Maori Statutory Board. It is chaired by deputy mayor Penny Hulse.

Mr Brown, who promised greater transparency and openness when he came to office, said everything that needed to released on the draft Unitary Plan had been released and had no intention of releasing other documents.

Sally Hughes, spokeswoman for the Character Coalition - a group of heritage and community organisations - said it was vital for the public to have access to all the information to form a view of the robustness of the Unitary Plan.

She said the council had not been forthcoming providing the research, evidence and analysis for the level of intensification in the Unitary Plan, infrastructure planning and the lack of public notification on heritage.

The Herald is seeking a review of the council decision from the Ombudsman.

- NZ Herald

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