Auckland Council has withdrawn staff from crucial hearings on the city’s future, saying its hands are tied by political revolt.
Few of the council’s planning staff and expert witnesses are to appear at the Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel, which is set to begin considering future zonings tomorrow.
The withdrawal follows an unprecedented defeat for council leadership 10 days ago, when councillors overthrew some higher-density housing proposals already before the panel – by a vote of 13 to 8.
In legal advice prior to the vote, councillors were told they should not withdraw any evidence and that doing so would have significant legal consequences.
Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town wrote to councillors and the chairs of the local boards, explaining the withdrawal.
Mr Town said the only exception would be if the panel itself called council staff, or if other submitters sought to cross-examine them.
While council staff would be unable to argue in person over the housing zonings that a majority of councillors opposed, the written arguments remained before the panel and could be argued by others.
On Thursday, Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel chair Judge David Kirkpatrick told a packed hearing room that it would not be removing any evidence already before it, nor would the panel refuse to call any witnesses.
Thanks to the decisions of councillors under the fake pretence of process, they’ve now turned the whole process into a farce and an even bigger process mess. Instead of representing the views of the city and its people, the council are now sitting on the side lines and not representing anyone. Those 13 councillors shot their own feet at point blank range.
Perhaps they might claim it was an unintended consequence but the outcome is exactly what they were warned would happen. Below is the independent legal advice Radio NZ reference that the council received over the matter. It is pretty unequivocal that the councillors should not have voted to withdraw evidence.
Despite this councillors like George Wood and mayoral candidates like Mark Thomas continue to believe that council staff should be able to merrily turn up and pretend the evidence, the panels interim guidance as well as other factors simply didn’t happen. Here’s George Wood on Morning Report yesterday.
or listen here.
While most of this recent Unitary Plan episode has been frustrating, one the positive in recent days has been MP David Shearer injecting himself into the debate. First with this comment
— David Shearer (@DavidShearerMP) March 2, 2016
Then this excellent piece.
There’s an old saying that Auckland is great at planning – for yesterday’s needs.
So I was disappointed at last week’s decision by Auckland Council to reject the plan for greater housing density in Auckland City. It betrayed short-term thinking and a lack of vision by our city leaders, and will leave our city about 200,000 homes short of what we will need by 2040.
High density is nothing to fear. It’s bad design we need to guard against.
It’s bad design that has frightened some Aucklanders off the high-density living our city so desperately needs. Look at the Scene One, Scene Two and Scene Three apartments at the bottom of the city: they’re ugly, towering examples of where we’ve got it wrong.
So the need for higher housing density in Auckland is clear. It’s obvious. Let’s get on with it.
And instead of fighting what Auckland so desperately needs, we should embrace density and henceforth put our energies into insisting on good planning, thoughtful rules about building envelopes and heights, robust restrictions that protect privacy and light and – always- quality materials that will further beautify our city and stand the test of time.
This is good to see from an MP whose electorate contains some of those most opposed to change. It’s a shame other MPs have been so silent about it – perhaps like their council colleagues out of fear of angry property owners resistant to change.