Auckland Council's property arm has been contacting people asking them to withdraw their objections to the proposed sale of a number of public reserves.
The council is undertaking public consultation to revoke the Reserves Act status for 20 reserves to help dig itself out of a projected $1 billion Covid-driven financial hole.
The sales have sparked opposition in communities like Howick and New Lynn, dragged in National MPs Simeon Brown and Christopher Luxon, and led many people to make submissions against the sales.
Last night, the chief executive of council's property arm Panuku, David Rankin, apologised for the email, saying it was an honest mistake and Panuku is working with submitters to clarify the matter.
Some submitters were shocked to receive the email from a Panuku staffer thanking them for taking the time to let the council know their views.
The email said the reserves have been chosen because they "no longer have a service purpose" after detailed analysis of their value to the wider open space network and "asset recycling" will help keep rates low and help fund essential services despite the effect of the global pandemic on council finances.
"I hope you may reconsider your objection in light of this information. If you would like to withdraw your objection please let me know," the email said.
Howick councillor Sharon Stewart, who is backing opposition to the sale of four public reserves in her ward, was flabbergasted at the email and sought answers from council chief executive Jim Stabback.
"I have been involved in submissions over 23 years and have never seen anything like this before. I am extremely concerned that this undermines the credibility of the submission process," she told Stabback.
Christopher Luxon, the MP for Botany, and Simeon Brown, the MP for Pakuranga, have written to Stabback, Mayor Phil Goff and David Rankin seeking answers.
They said the email raises significant concern as to whether the council is following the requirements of the Reserves Act and whether it is fairly considering objections.
They have also sent their letter to Conservation Minister Kiri Allan, who has the final say on revoking the status of the reserves and allowing them to be sold.
Rankin said 17 submitters received the email, saying it was an honest mistake by a relatively junior staffer that was "well intentioned without realising how it could be misinterpreted".
He said the email was not approved by a senior member of staff.
"The organisation takes responsibility for this, and we are reviewing our processes internally to ensure this doesn't happen again.
"We apologise for this and we are working with submitters to clarify this," said Rankin, saying no submissions have been withdrawn.
He said Panuku and the council continue to encourage submissions on the sale of public reserves until March 31 when consultation closes.
One woman who received the email after putting in a submission against the sale of Davern Reserve in New Lynn was appalled.
Lisa Kachappilly said she bought into Davern Lane for the reserve, which her two younger children use all the time for biking and playing football.
She had talked about her personal connection to the reserve in her submission and expected a neutral response when she received the email on March 15.
The suggestion to withdraw the submission was "totally inappropriate", said Kachappilly, saying it took the council eight days to "backtrack" on the email.
Mels Barton, secretary of the Tree Council, said for the council to undertake public consultation and then try to stop people objecting is appalling.
She has been involved in opposing the sale of Davern Reserve, for which the land was provided by a developer as part of a subdivision in 1994 and contains two pōhutukawa trees and a titoki tree "that will not survive redevelopment for housing".
On Wednesday night, the Whau Local Board passed a resolution opposing the sale of Davern Reserve.