Published 29 September 2010
The Auckland Regional Council has decided to appeal Auckland City Council’s approval of a site-specific plan change allowing a highrise Britomart hotel on Quay St, although it wasn’t put quite that way in a regional council news release on Monday.
The decision to appeal private plan change 41 comes 5 weeks before the 2 councils hand over their roles to the new unitary Auckland Council.
At the city council meeting on 26 August where the plan change was approved on a 10-6 vote on party lines, City Vision councillor Glenda Fryer proposed rejecting the commissioners’ recommendation and appointing a new panel to hear the application. She also mentioned the possibility of the regional council appealing the plan change, which raised a further question of how one arm of the new Auckland Council post-1 November might appeal the recommendation of another arm.
The independent panel of Greg Hill (chairman), Trish Fordyce & Rebecca Skidmore recommended approval because of the proposal’s positive environmental effects.
Britomart precinct developer Cooper & Co won approval to increase the height limit from 24m to a stepped height control of 55.24m above mean street level on the eastern two-thirds of the 1570m² site and 35.4m on the rest of it. An additional 5m for roof structures was also allowed. An earlier plan change proposal, in 2008, was for an 80m tower on the site.
The regional council release described its appeal as being against “a decision to remove the height restriction in place around the Britomart Heritage Precinct to make way for a new waterfront development,” although the precinct has – and from the time Cooper & Co got the job in 2004 of rejuvenating it, was always going to have – a mix of new & old, and the intended hotel to be built on the Seafarers’ site would not be much taller than the neighbouring 13-storey 50m East complex under construction.
Regional council chairman Mike Lee, who’s backed by City Vision for a seat on the Auckland Council, also asserted in the Monday release: “Although turned down by Auckland City planners, the plan change to enable the revision of heights was given the green light by independent commissioners.” He said the regional council was appealing the bulk & form of the development.
Cllr Fryer’s argument at the city council meeting made it clear that council had the ability to reject the commissioners’ recommendation – but mayor John Banks made it equally clear there had to be reasons under the Resource Management Act. Cllr Lee’s suggestion the council staff “turned down” the plan change proposal is nonsense: where there is to be a hearing, council staff write a report for the panel and may make recommendations, but they don’t make a decision.
Cllr Lee continued: “This proposal would see a tall building go up slap bang on the waterfront, blocking out everything behind and severely impacting the character of the lower, heritage buildings in the precinct around it that we have worked so hard to develop in recent years.
“In addition, our waterfront has graduated buildings that start lower and get taller as we go further back inland. This is not by chance, it is by design.”
And then he reiterated his erroneous point: “We are in agreement with Auckland City Council here. Their staff had already turned this one down.”
What Cllr Lee didn’t explain was how the new unitary council would get on taking both sides of an argument to the Environment Court, or whether the court would even consider such a proposition without suggesting mediation (of sorts) within the walls of the new council first.
Although the city council made its decision on the plan change a month ago, the possibility of an appeal wasn’t important enough to make the agenda for the regional council’s final meeting, on Monday afternoon, where the veracity of some of the chairman’s assertions might have been tested in public.
21 September 2009: Revised Seafarers plan change notified
9 September 2009: Steel structure on latest Britomart building completed
4 August 2009: Cooper goes for new Seafarers site plan change
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Attribution: Regional council release, my comments, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.