Auckland's mayor has tried to reassure the public that any expansion of the port will "go through proper processes and be fully debated by council and public" (Herald, February 28).

Mayor Len Brown is reported as saying: "Increased container traffic might create demand for new berths and this will be dealt with at the time by the resource consent process."

I fear Mr Brown's faith in Resource Management Act processes to deal with matters of public interest on the waterfront raises questions about his council's commitment to planning compliance, and about what proper processes are.

Legislation establishing the Auckland Council required it to prepare and adopt a spatial plan to provide a long-term strategy for the city. This is a different approach to planning. The spatial plan's objectives have to refer to the social, economic, environmental and economic realms to align it with the four well-beings referred to in the Local Government Act 2002, and to broaden the purpose of the spatial plan so that it is not simply about growth and development.

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The council has prepared a draft spatial plan which is out for consultation now. Public concern has arisen because the spatial plan documents all incorporate - without question or serious consideration of alternative options - port expansion plans which assume a 400 per cent growth in container volumes and 18ha further development of Waitemata Harbour through reclamation.

Concern has arisen because the Waterfront Development Agency, which is the council-controlled organisation responsible for preparing Auckland's waterfront master plan - a central component of the Auckland Spatial Plan - restricted its consideration to exclude Ports of Auckland and its expansion plans.

The agency's master plan for the waterfront concentrates on the assets that it owns. These exclude port assets which are "managed and operated" by Auckland Council Investments - another council-controlled organisation.

Its statement of intent says the organisation will try to develop and implement a long-term strategy for the port that seeks to improve its productivity. It also says the organisation will identify and resolve potential conflicts between the port's operational requirements and other waterfront activities and plans of strategic significance to the region.

Mr Brown is an optimist, and that's a good thing, but he's dreaming if he believes that a Waitemata Harbour resource consent process is the right place to resolve the policy conflicts that inevitably exist among this proliferation of organisations, let alone with public interest considerations.

The buck clearly stops with the Auckland Council when it comes to the adoption of a spatial plan for the city.

By law, the Auckland Spatial Plan must "enable coherent and co-ordinated decision-making by the Auckland Council and other parties to determine the future location and timing of critical infrastructure".

If that isn't clear enough, the law also states that Auckland Council "must identify the existing and future location of critical infrastructure".

The spatial plan is intended to set a strategic direction for Auckland and its communities that "integrates social, economic, environmental and cultural objectives". It is about integrated planning. It is not about a proliferation of separate plans - one for the port, one for the rest of the waterfront, and one for the downtown city. That's what Auckland had before amalgamation.

And if 20ha of new reclamation is not "critical infrastructure", I don't know what is.

The port expansion plans need to be in the spatial plan - or not - after due process. Not put in the too-hard basket and left for some future council to deal with by applying for a resource consent.

The Resource Management Act does have its place in Auckland waterfront planning. Many praise the planning work that delivered what the public love and now enjoy down at the Wynyard Quarter. Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council sweated blood over plan changes and resource consent applications and public hearings hammering out the planning framework for what we see today.

That was due process, once fundamental and broad-brush decisions had been taken about how the land and water spaces would be used. It respected matters such as heritage and the public interest in, and enjoyment of, Auckland's waterfront - unlike the way Auckland Council is handling waterfront development right now.

Under Mr Brown's leadership, Auckland Council is planning a big change in the use of Queens Wharf (Auckland's primary cruise ship terminal), which has a raft of environmental effects - traffic on Quay St, passengers in buses and taxis, conflicts with public access and ferry traffic, engineering work on a heritage building - apparently without going through due process.

Last month, I was advised that no decision had been made to publicly notify any consents for the development of Queens Wharf.

No responsible council would allow a private developer to do what Auckland Council and its "council-controlled organisations" plan to do with Queens Wharf. Not without a decent set of resource consents and conditions. It's good to talk about "proper process". Now it's time to walk the talk on the waterfront.

Dr Joel Cayford, a four-term councillor, is a planning lecturer at the University of Auckland.