A marina planned for Matiatia is surely a local issue - but the Auckland Council has ducked for cover.
The next showdown between the nouveau riche of Waiheke Island and the old lifestylers who see themselves as "tangata whenua" will be played out in the sterile environment of the Environment Court.
Auckland Council's Hearings Committee chairwoman, Noelene Raffills, has ducked for cover on the contentious issue of the proposed Matiatia Marina and persuaded a slim majority of fellow committeemen to toss the decision-making to the Environment Court rather than keep it in-house.
Which will be good news for Fullers Ferries, as local submitters have to traipse off to the city for court hearings each day, but not such a good deal for democrats who believe in local decisions being made locally.
Furious local councillor Mike Lee remarked: "This is the sort of thing people might have expected from a John Banks-led council - certainly not from a Len Brown council."
Committee member Wayne Walker said: "We're making it difficult for local people to engage in issues." This was the point council planners emphasised in recommending against the fast-tracking Ms Raffills persuaded a slim majority to support.
In her report, Veena Krishna, principal planner, hearings and resolutions, argued the resource consent sought for the 160-berth marina immediately north of Matiatia Wharf "is predominantly a local issue, with a large number of submissions [more than 800], predominantly from local residents of Waiheke". She said if Auckland Council held the hearing, the submitters "will be able to participate in a decision-making process ... on this significant local project and with an on-island venue for the hearing".
She said a large number would be lay people, likely to be unfamiliar with the Environment Court process. If the decision was appealed to the Environment Court, the initial Auckland Council hearing process "would have led to a refinement of the issues to then allow for a more focused and efficient Environment Court process".
Mr Lee says he warned Mayor Brown a week ago of the likely anger of Waiheke people if the hearing process was suddenly fast-tracked after submissions had been called under the normal process. His message was obviously not heard - or ignored.
The marina application now seems set to become a showcase for the Government's desire to speed up the hearing process under the Resource Management Act. It passed the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 in response to the clamour of developers objecting to the drawn-out process the obtaining of a consent can be. However, it fell short of specifying criteria for determining which cases should be referred directly upstairs. It left that key decision in the hands of local councils.
Waiheke Marinas Ltd was launched in 2011 by retired Smith Sounds hi fi businessman Graham Guthrie. He told the Herald at the time: "I just simply want a place to park my boat ... we have got a lot of people living on the island who have got boats and unfortunately they can't keep them here because there is no place to park them."
In its application for fast-tracking, Waiheke Marina argued there was a reasonably high probability a decision by the council would be appealed to the Environment Court and that the decision would be heavily reliant on the evaluation of expert witness evidence. It's almost as though they are saying the country bumpkins will only get in the way and slow things down.
The council officers agree that given the number of submitters, including 313 requesting to be heard and a further 354 yet to indicate, an appeal to the Environment Court "is highly probable".
However, they question whether a direct referral "would be an efficient use of the Court's resources due to the large number of submitters stating they wish to appear ..." Further, a council hearing would leave only the most determined of submitters to appeal, and also refine the matters of contention for the Environment Court's attention.
Fast-tracking is favoured by the Government and its business allies. It seems we'd better get used to it. It's the process favoured for getting the new Auckland Plan quickly finalised as well. It's seen as more efficient. But at what price?
One of the great struggles since amalgamation has been to keep the local in local government. Auckland Council is a great centralised animal, with those on the fringes struggling to be heard. A marina at Matiatia on an island in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is surely a local issue, to be heard locally. Hopefully, this decision is an aberration and not a precedent.