Three people have been appointed to an independent panel that will make a decision about whether the public should be involved in a decision to make six motels temporary housing for the homeless.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development has applied for resource consents to make "land use changes". If approved, it will allow the motels to operate as emergency housing facilities lawfully.
Restore Rotorua, which is a local incorporated society, has argued the resource consent applications should be publicly notified - meaning locals should get a say - given the impact emergency housing has had on local residents living in the area.
Restore Rotorua was objecting to the Rotorua Lakes Council putting through a land-use change resource consent for the Boulevard Motel on Fenton St without letting the public know. The Government paid $8.1 million for the motel, which is now undergoing construction to make it appropriate for 80 people to live there as transitional housing.
The council agreed to appoint an independent panel that would decide whether the remaining six resource consent applications would be publicly notified.
The panel is made up of two senior planners, David Hill and Greg Hill, and barrister Sheena Tepania.
A media release from the council said all three were experts in their fields and experienced commissioners.
The release said the decision to appoint the panel was made by the council as a way to assure the community and the applicant the processing of the applications would be carried out fairly and independently.
Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston said appointing the commissioners protected the integrity and independence of the process which was fair to both the applicant and the community.
He said it was a complex situation and the council had a legal obligation to follow the statutory process that was outlined by the Resource Management Act.
"There is no discretion to make decisions outside of what the act prescribes. While we have absolute confidence in our council planning team, by appointing the commissioners we can provide an additional level of certainty to the community and to the applicants that all decisions will be made fairly, independently and with the benefit of a very high level of expertise."
Gaston said the council had always said any motel contracted by the Government for emergency housing would need to be considered under the District Plan.
The six applications were on hold while the council awaited further information from the ministry.
Once further information has been provided, the council's planning team would continue to process the applications and prepare reports and recommendations for the panel.
If the panel decided to limit or publicly notify an application, a hearing would be held on that application and the panel would then decide whether to decline or grant it.
Restore Rotorua spokesman Trevor Newbrook welcomed the council's appointments.
Newbrook said Restore Rotorua hired lawyers to put the council on notice that if it didn't adopt a transparent process for the six applications, it would take the council to court.
"We are pleased the council has responded by appointing a commissioner panel to exercise their powers so we get independence and transparency."
Newbrook said Restore Rotorua was concerned the ministry still had not provided responses to information requests made by the council and described the delays as unacceptable.
"We also remain concerned that while this delay continues, [the ministry] continues to use these motels for emergency housing."
He said Restore Rotorua considered it a "win" when the council decided to appoint the panel and they felt it underpinned the importance of Restore Rotorua as a key stakeholder and community watchdog.
In response to the criticism, ministry external engagement and communications manager Dennis de Reus said it was continuing to gather the information requested by the council and the council had agreed to additional time to allow it to do this.
Gaston has previously responded to criticism from Restore Rotorua that it "waved" through the Boulevard application without publicly notifying it.
He previously said it was incorrect to suggest the Boulevard Motel resource consent processing was "rushed" through.
"The processing planners followed the legislative process in line with what is set out in the Resource Management Act and the Rotorua District Plan," he said previously.