Mary Barry is a tiny voice in a battle over the future of Auckland, fought between powerful developers with expensive lawyers and volunteer community organisations. The Government has ruled out any funding for the groups.

"I feel like I'm under water breathing through a straw," said Mrs Barry, chairwoman of Parnell Heritage.

It and other community organisations are crying foul at the hearings process for the draft Unitary Plan, which they say is daunting, complex and heavily weighted towards the powerful few who can afford lawyers and experts.

"We are not against intensification, but we are for quality design, quality planning that does not introduce inappropriate, multi-storey dwellings to areas of older single dwellings," Mrs Barry said.

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Christine Cavanagh, who chairs the Herne Bay Residents' Association, said the proposed Unitary Plan will determine the shape and form of Auckland for years to come with far-reaching consequences on the lives of 1.5 million people.

But she said the process was being pushed through at an unseemly pace and weighted in favour of experts, leaving resident and interest groups at a disadvantage.

The hearings panel, chaired by Judge David Kirkpatrick, is on a two-year timetable.

Last week, Auckland Council's Unitary Plan committee voted not to extend the hearings process by three months.

Said Character Coalition spokeswoman Sally Hughes: "We are completely swamped by the number of hearings and the prohibitive costs of experts. It is a David and Goliath battle."

What is the Unitary Plan?
A new planning rulebook for the Super City that will guide how housing and development will occur over the next 30 years.

What are the main sticking points?
Communities throughout Auckland have expressed concerns about a compact city model with more apartment-style living. Developers, council planners and the Government want to relax the rules to allow for more intensification.

Can the two sides reach a compromise?
Many communities support intensification, but not on a scale envisaged under the Unitary Plan, or taking place under the existing planning rules.

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What happens now?
An independent hearings panel is hearing submissions. Community groups say they don't have the resources to compete against businesses.