Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Cone of silence over Unitary Plan

Telling councillors to keep opinions to themselves amounts to bunker mentality, says mayoral candidate.
Auckland councillors have been told not to discuss the Unitary Plan as it nears completion. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland councillors have been told not to discuss the Unitary Plan as it nears completion. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland councillors have been "strongly advised" not to attend any public meetings, seek public views or respond to posts on social media as the Unitary Plan nears completion.

Senior officers have told councillors they must maintain an open mind on upcoming decisions on the plan, the new planning rulebook that sets out what can be built and where.

A memo to councillors was issued on May 13 after formal hearings finished and an independent hearings panel begins work on recommendations to council by July 22.

A council spokeswoman said the memo was in response to a request from members of the Auckland Development Committee to provide guidance about their role as "decision-makers in waiting".

"It's critical for the public to understand that the Unitary Plan is a unique statutory process for Auckland," said the spokeswoman, who provided a copy of the memo to the Herald.

She said preserving the integrity of plan decision-making process was crucial and for that reason chief executive Stephen Town and director legal and risk Katherine Anderson provided guidance in the period between the panel finishing public hearings in May and the governing body making final decisions in August.

The memo said councillors could still make broad policy statements about views on the plan, but were "strongly advised" to steer clear of any formal community or public meetings, acknowledge the receipt of any further written material, seek the views of constituents or other people and not respond positively or negatively to posts on social media.

Mayoral candidate and Orakei Local Board member Mark Thomas said the memo was typical council "bunker mentality" and would raise community hackles.

"This note seems to be a reflection that the organisation knows it's on the back foot with its public communication around the Unitary Plan.

"Council should be advising councillors and all elected members to be proactive about what will happen, what people will know and when and how the decisions will be made," Mr Thomas said.

Stop Stealing Our Harbour lobby group said councillors had been told to maintain an independent position when mayor Len Brown and council chief executive Stephen Town had visited Ports of Auckland at a critical stage of an independent review into the port's future.

On Tuesday, Mr Brown, his chief of staff Theresa Stratton and Mr Town had a port tour with ports chief executive Tony Gibson.

Ports spokesman Matt Ball said the review was mentioned but only in passing and in the context it would be good to have the study out and get more clarity about the future of the port.

Stop Stealing Our Harbour spokesman Michael Goldwater said being "schmoozed around the port with Tony Gibson" when the independent, council-commissioned review was nearing completion smacked of corporate lobbying and was not a good look.

Gagging order

Councillors are strongly advised not to:

• Attend any formal or public meetings about the Unitary Plan

• Seek views of constituents or other people

• Respond to posts on social media

- NZ Herald

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