On his campaign website, mayoral candidate John Banks pledges that he "will continue to defend heritage and character areas through the city", working "to ensure that sound heritage and character outcomes for Auckland are reached".

They're fine words, but his actions at last Thursday's city council meeting tell a different story. Instead of joining the minority of councillors fighting to save the Britomart heritage precinct from a totally inappropriate high-rise hotel, he joined the Citizens and Ratepayers majority in support of the proposal.

If ever there was a time for leadership it was then. But we saw none. Cooper and Company won the right to redevelop the council-owned historic 5.2ha Britomart heritage precinct in 2004. The task was to transform the historic commercial zone, into a low-rise urban village, full of loft apartments, upmarket shops, trendy offices, restaurants and a hotel or two.

In August 2008, the developers suddenly announced plans for a luxury 175-room hotel on the Quay St site of the Seafarers Building to be build in time for the Rugby World Cup. It was to be 101m high, four times the allowable height.

After public uproar, with Auckland City's urban design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid denouncing it as "alien" in scale to the adjacent heritage precinct, Coopers came back with a building of 61.4m. This later shrunk to 55.24m. There was still widespread opposition, including submissions from Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Council and the Historic Places Trust.

Auckland City Council appointed three independent commissioners to hear the private plan change Coopers needed to lift the existing 24m height restriction. Last week, the commissioners released a decision backing the plan change, claiming it will have "positive environmental effects", and that any potential adverse effects will be no more than minor.

Having delegated the decision-making to the commissioners, Auckland City cannot appeal, what is, in effect its own decision, even though it opposed the plan change. However other parties, such as the ARC and the HPT can. ARC chairman Mike Lee is pressing for his council to do so. The HPT is considering the same.

What Auckland City could have done on Thursday was to act politically, reject the finding as unacceptable, and convene another hearing, with, presumably, new commissioners.

This is what City Vision leader Richard Northey argues. "I was on the council in 2000 and took part in the decision to award the intensely competed for Britomart precinct redevelopment contract.

"Part of the reason for selecting Cooper and Co was their undertaking that they could afford to redevelop the entire precinct in character without the need for any out-of-scale or out-of-character buildings to help fund it." He said the precinct "is a legacy beyond price for future generations that cannot be lost now by plonking an out-of-scale and out-of-character hotel plumb in the middle of it".

Mr Northey is reflecting the evidence presented by Auckland City, the regional council and the HPT. The commissioners decided to side with the developers and their experts, who argued a tall, modern building would not just blend in with the old buildings, but because of its size, "would enable a large activity attractor required to draw people from the CBD".

They also empathised with Cooper's chief executive Matthew Cockram who said "it would not be viable economically to develop the site under current district plan provisions".

This begs the question, why did they buy an uneconomic site then? Unless, of course, they planned to bring out the violin at a later stage and plead hardship and gamble on Auckland City giving in to the tears.

On the one side we have experts representing the public interest. On the other, experts hired by the developers. The commissioners have gone with the latter, and Mr Banks and the majority of his councillors have thrown in the towel. If this is what the mayor means when he says he's going "to defend heritage and character areas through the city" I'm not very impressed.

There are times to show political leadership. Now is one of them. Cooper and Company deserve our congratulations for what they've done so far to revive this unique heritage quarter. But in this instance, they're using the goodwill they've built up to take advantage of us.

If it takes another hearing to get the right result, then so be it.