Auckland Council's development arm has hired a partner and a second lawyer from a big city law firm at ratepayers' expense to fight its masters at council in court.

Panuku Development Auckland has lodged an appeal in the Environment Court against Auckland Council after it was refused planning permission for an apartment and commercial development on Dominion Rd.

To fight council, Panuku has put Russell McVeagh partner Daniel Minhinnick and senior associate Simon Pilkinton on the ratepayer payroll.

The commissioners...misinterpreted the relevant Unitary Plan provisions

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The pair are named on the appeal notice, which was lodged on Tuesday.

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If the matter goes to court, Auckland Council is likely to engage its own outside lawyers at ratepayers' expense.

The decision by planning commissioners to refuse Panuku's plans for 102 apartments and nine shops on the corner of Dominion Rd and Valley Rd was welcomed by heritage groups, but criticised by Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford.

He cited the decision as one reason for the Government overriding Auckland Council and scrapping the Unitary Plan in specified parts of Auckland.

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford is disappointed with the Dominion Rd decision.
Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford is disappointed with the Dominion Rd decision.

Twyford plans to set up an Urban Development Authority to become the "planning and consenting authority" for 12 to 15 large-scale housing developments, including along Dominion Rd.

Panuku's plans on Dominion Rd attracted opposition from 34 submitters, five in favour and two neutral.

Peter Lange, the brother of former Prime Minister David Lange, who has lived within 20m of the site for almost 40 years, said the site was owned by the people of Auckland but earmarked for a gated community for a few privileged citizens.

He told planning commissioners the development needed to reflect the social make-up and architectural heritage of the area with public spaces, planting and retail interest.

Potter Peter Lange says the site is owned by the public of Auckland and any development needed to reflect the social make-up and architectural heritage of the area.
Potter Peter Lange says the site is owned by the public of Auckland and any development needed to reflect the social make-up and architectural heritage of the area.

Dominion Rd Business Association manager Gary Holmes slammed the decision, saying the type of development planned by Panuku is the future of Auckland, referring to plans for modern trams and urban redevelopment down Dominion Rd.

The council believed the project was too big and bulky and would erode the character of the area. Part of the plan included demolition of the plastered brick Universal Building on Dominion Rd, built in 1949.

Following public submissions and hearings, planning commissioners refused resource consent, citing the scale, bulk and intensity of the proposed development as the main reasons.

An artist's impression of the proposed development on Valley Rd. Source / Panuku
An artist's impression of the proposed development on Valley Rd. Source / Panuku

Panuku said it was appealing the whole of the decision, but is exploring potential modifications to the design to address the concerns raised by the commissioners.

The council body said the commissioners failed to take a "real-world" approach to the application...leading the commissioners to overstate the bulk, dominance and shading effects.

"The commissioners adopted an erroneous receiving environment, misinterpreted the relevant Unitary Plan provisions and relied on inaccurate council assessments to reach their decision," the notice of appeal said.

The Herald is seeking comment from Panuku chief executive Roger MacDonald, council chief executive Stephen Town and Mayor Phil Goff on why they cannot resolve matters without resorting to expensive lawyers.