Judge rules consents should not have been granted for project without public first having a say

Port opponents have won a historic victory and sunk the latest expansion plans involving filling in more of the Waitemata Harbour.

Ports of Auckland was forced to stop work on a wharf extension yesterday after the High Court ruled that the consents for the project were invalid because the public had not been given a say.

"We don't have consent so we can't proceed," ports spokesman Matt Ball told the Weekend Herald.

The ruling marks a victory for thousands of Aucklanders who have marched or taken to the harbour in boats to protest at the extensions, and for the protest group Stop Stealing Our Harbour and the Herald, which has campaigned against further port expansion since 2012.

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A Fletcher Building subsidiary, Brian Perry Civil, has started a $22 million contract on two finger wharf extensions about 100m into the harbour at the end of Bledisloe Wharf.

Following intense public pressure, Auckland Mayor Len Brown used his casting vote on April 30 to approve a compromise offer by the ports company to stop extending the western end of the wharf by 92m into the harbour, pending completion of a wider, year-long port study.

Work has proceeded on the eastern wharf extension, and the port company has stated its intention for a 3ha reclamation between the two new wharves over time, largely for bulk cargo such as cars.

The ruling by Justice Geoffrey Venning is a huge victory for Urban Auckland, a society of architects and planning professionals, which was virtually broke at the end of a two-day court case in early June.

Spokeswoman Julie Stout said: "We always knew it was the right thing to do bringing this case and we have been completely vindicated."

The society's lawyer, Dr Matthew Palmer, QC, said the ports company had two options. It could appeal the case or seek new resource consents.

On February 12, the Herald revealed that the council had granted consents for the extensions without giving the public a say late last year. Politicians, including Mr Brown, first learned of the consents from the Herald.

Mr Ball said the company was disappointed with the outcome of the case.

"We believed that all legal and planning requirements had been fully complied with. We will need time to consider the implications of the judgment."

Auckland Council, which had been confident its consent processes would be vindicated, said it would consider the judgment over the next few days.

Last night, a source said the Super City council had spent $500,000 defending the consents.

In his ruling, Justice Venning said the consents should have been notified for two reasons, and set them aside.

The judge said the multiple consents for the extensions should have been bundled together, which would have required notification, and considered under the most restricted activity, "discretionary activity".

Dr Palmer said that meant all the wider adverse effects would become relevant if the port applied for new consents.

The second reason the consents should have been notified, Justice Venning said, was that a "special circumstances" clause existed "which required notification in this case".

He said the council-appointed commissioners made an error in thinking that because the applications were for a "controlled activity" and an expected development that no special circumstances existed, so there was no need to notify the consents.

Four-month fight

February 12:

Herald reveals Ports of Auckland wharf extensions proposals

March 20:

Prominent Aucklanders join new protest group to "Save Our Harbour"

March 22:

Thousands of people gather at Queens Wharf and on boats in the harbour to protest against the extensions

June 2-3:

Urban Auckland challenges in the High Court the lawfulness of the extensions

June 19:

High Court judge rules consents invalid. Work stops on extensions