The guardians of Auckland's volcanic cones are seeking clearer rules to protect
viewshafts to the city's maunga.
The Tupuna Maunga Authority is going to the Environment Court seeking a declaration that in areas where two sets of rules apply to protect viewshafts, the more restrictive set of rules prevails.
The authority, which governs 14 of the city's maunga as a result of the Tamaki Collective Treaty settlement, said the maunga stand as the "essence of Auckland".
"As Auckland continues to grow and intensify, the Tupuna Maunga are increasingly important as spiritual and aesthetic anchors for all Auckland communities, and as valuable open spaces and places of refuge in an urban landscape," the authority said in its application to the court.
Last month, a study by PwC economist Geoff Cooper said protecting views of Maungawhau, or Mt Eden, for commuters coming across the Auckland Harbour Bridge is costing Auckland $1.4 billion in lost development opportunities.
Cooper called for a discussion about development restrictions imposed by viewshafts protected in the Unitary Plan, the planning blueprint for Auckland Council.
The rules could be changed to "provide a middle path for city planners that reduce the cost while preserving views", he said.
Viewshafts are planning tools that limit building development so people have unimpeded views of maunga. They started in the 1970s with the building of the Pines apartment block on the slopes of Mt Eden and caught on.
Under the Unitary Plan, any building up to 9m in height that intrudes into a viewshaft requires resource consent. Development above 9m is a "non-complying" activity and much harder to get planning permission for.
The Unitary Plan also contains "Height Sensitive Areas" around the base of some volcanic cones to protect local views to the cones. In these areas, people can build up to 9m as of right but need a resource consent above 9m.
In its application to the court, the maunga authority wants the more restrictive viewshaft rules to prevail over the Height Sensitive Area rules where they overlap.
This would require a resource consent to build up to 9m in a Height Sensitive Area.
Maunga authority chairman Paul Majurey said there are issues of interpretation over the rules between council planning staff and the authority that need to be clarified by the court.
He said there had been discussions on the viewshafts for decades, including intensive debate during the Unitary Plan process.
"If the application is successful, then that's the court saying that's the correct interpretation of the plan which went through a very fulsome process with the Unitary Plan hearings, the independent hearing panel's decisions and council's independent review of that," Majurey said.
The case is similar to an Environment Court ruling on the council's interpretation of new rules in the Unitary Plan for character suburbs.
After initially applying one set of rules, the court ruled the council needed to apply two sets of rules that gave a greater say to neighbours and tighter height, bulk and setback rules.
Last week, the council's planning committee approved the development of a plan change to fix the problem, which has left 319 homeowners and developers in limbo and having to reapply for resource consents.
Councillor Mike Lee was disappointed the council had not considered affected neighbours, who had not been told about the problem and could be affected by building works blocking their views or sunlight.