Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Port calls in legal heavyweight

Ms Chen said the ports company would contest the legality of the resolution unless the council amended the resolution. Photo / File
Ms Chen said the ports company would contest the legality of the resolution unless the council amended the resolution. Photo / File

Mai Chen helps company in spat with city council over measures to reclaim more of the Waitemata Harbour


Ports of Auckland has hired top lawyer Mai Chen to help it in a row with the Auckland Council over measures to reclaim more of the Waitemata Harbour.

Ports chief executive Tony Gibson and Ms Chen met Mayor Len Brown in September to try to avoid starting legal action against their owner. Another meeting is set for today.

After councillors agreed in August to make further reclamation of the harbour a "non-complying" activity in the draft Unitary Plan, Ms Chen told the mayor's office the move wasillegal.

She said it breached the Resource Management Act and the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which sets out councils' planning requirements for the efficient and safe operation of ports.

Ms Chen said the ports company would contest the legality of the resolution in a submission on the draft plan unless the council amended the resolution.

Her proposed amendment would allow the port company to go through the normal resource consent process - not the more difficult "non-complying" process - to expand Bledisloe Wharf up to 179m into the harbour.

Wendy Brandon, the council's top lawyer at the time, and Ian Cowper, a specialist in regional and coastal policies, disagreed with Ms Chen and said the council resolution was legally sound. Despite receiving advice that it would be unwise to meet Mr Gibson and Ms Chen on the issue, Mr Brown attended a meeting on September 18.

The talks are to resume today.

Other interested parties, such as Heart of the City and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, would be consulted on the terms of reference.

The port company said it had no comment on the issue and Ms Chen did not return calls.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney was appalled by the actions of the 100 per cent council-owned port company spending time and money on "legal trickery" to undermine the Unitary Plan process.

Mr Swney said the company was behaving like old-fashioned bullies and the council should send Mr Gibson and Ms Chen packing.

Mr Brown has said port reclamation was the most difficult issue of his first term in office. It followed a campaign by the Herald since January last year against further reclamation and a series in August outlining the port company's latest plans, strong opposition from Ngati Whatua o Orakei and effects on rail and transport systems, which have not been fully investigated.

- NZ Herald

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