A legal challenge over the controversial Bledisloe Wharf extensions at Ports of Auckland has begun in the High Court at Auckland today.

Urban Auckland, a society of architects and planning professionals, has opened its case challenging the lawfulness of the resource consents issued by Auckland Council late last year for two extensions about 100m into the Waitemata Harbour.

Dr Matthew Palmer, QC, acting for Urban Auckland, said the case was about whether the consents should or not be publicly notified and granted when there was significant public controversy about the proposal and similar proposals in the past.

He said the controversy could only be described as high into the future of the Waitemata Harbour and the effect on it by Bledisloe Wharf.

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"Because of that controversy you could expect that public submissions, additional perspectives and new information would come up through a public submission process," he said.

Dr Palmer said the council's lead planner, Jennifer Valentine, considered the consent applications and decided they were not "significant or contentious" within council's internal hearings committee guidelines and decided they should not be publicly notified.

He said it was a matter for the hearings committee, comprising elected representatives, to determine whether the applications were significant or contentious and appoint decision makers.

Dr Palmer said Ms Valentine said she knew further reclamation by the ports company "was a controversial issue", but failed to grasp that reclamation represented a physical loss of harbour space for the public at the "front door" of Auckland.

But extending a 4290sq m concrete wharf into the harbour, he said, had the same effect as demonstrated by the public outcry.

"It defies belief to suggest that such an outcry would not have been seen as likely, given the history of the issues," Dr Palmer's submission said.

The likelihood of public interest and controversy was heightened by wider effects, including visual, cultural, public wharf access and harbour recreation, especially in relation to sailing, the lawyer said.

Urban Auckland is expected to spend all of today presenting its case. This will be followed by submissions from Auckland Council and Ports of Auckland.

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The case, before Justice Geoffrey Venning, is set down for three days.