Auckland Council officers are being accused of getting politically involved in the Unitary Plan process after instructing councillors not to engage with the public on the future shape of the city.
In late May, councillors were "strongly advised" by senior officers not to attend public meetings, seek public views or respond to posts on social media as the Unitary Plan nears completion.
This month, the council began a $372,000 "public awareness campaign" on the need for a comprehensive plan for Auckland in the lead-up to decisions on the Unitary Plan, or new planning rulebook for the city.
The campaign involves posters, bus stops, social media and four sponsored articles in the Herald.
Councillor Dick Quax said it was disappointing to see council officers becoming so "politically involved" in the process, doubly so when councillors were instructed not to engage with the public at this stage.
"This has left the field open to officials to buy expensive advertising in the media to stake out their position on matters of extreme interest to the people of Auckland.
"Council officials should provide elected members with timely and impartial advice, not leading and shaping debate which is now sadly part of the culture of Auckland Council," Mr Quax said.
Mayoral candidate Mark Thomas said he would have less of an issue if the campaign was impartial, but it wasn't.
"To claim that an interview with just 15 people means 'more Aucklanders agree with intensification for the city's future growth under the Unitary Plan' is a gross misrepresentation and irresponsible." he said.
In an email responding to a query from Mr Thomas, acting council chief executive Sue Tindal said research about Aucklanders' experiences in the housing environment comprised in-depth interviews with 15 Aucklanders.
To claim that an interview with just 15 people means 'more Aucklanders agree with intensification for the city's future growth under the Unitary Plan' is a gross misrepresentation and irresponsible.
"The council organisation's job is to present the facts, and to provide fact-based advice to councillors to make decisions," Mr Thomas said.
Councillor Cameron Brewer is upset at reported comments from council chief executive Stephen Town that if councillors do not pass a coherent new plan for the city the Government could step in as soon as September.
In a Fairfax article 11 days ago, Mr Town said the Government had made it really clear that they think Auckland needs a coherent planning framework and made it clear they may consider stepping in.
"A threat like that on us councillors is completely inappropriate," Mr Brewer said.
He said there was an orchestrated campaign to shore up support for intensification before the independent hearings panel considering the Unitary Plan makes recommendations to the council on July 22.
The governing body is due to make final decisions on the plan - which will shape the future of the city for decades - by August 19.
The council would not say if it was appropriate to undertake the "public awareness campaign" when councillors had been instructed not to engage with the public, nor comment on Mr Town's reported comments.
Council media relations manager Katherine Forbes attached a memo sent to elected members regarding the campaign from communication and engagement director Karl Fergusson saying as "we enter into the final stages of the Unitary Plan process it is important we keep the community informed on what is happening".
The memo said a communications and media strategy had been developed in three phases - "awareness raising", "decision communications" and "what will the plan mean for me?"
"We will employ a range of communications tactics and channels, including paid media, to ensure we reach as many Aucklanders as possible," the memo said.
The campaign has the support of Mayor Len Brown, who issued a statement saying communicating with Aucklanders is part of the process of developing the Unitary Plan.
"It's the council's job to ensure Aucklanders are informed about what decisions are being taken and when," the statement said.