Property Council says complications will add a year to unitary plan process

The Property Council has told its members the Auckland unitary plan hearings panel is unlikely to be able to complete its process within the statutory timeframe and would have to ask for a year’s extension.

The panel has begun prehearings and has a completion target of July 2016 to report back to Auckland Council any changes it thinks should be made to the council’s proposed plan. The council will have until 30 September 2016 to consider the panel’s recommendations and to publish an Auckland unitary plan, which can still be appealed on matters of law.

But Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend told members, after outlining difficulties submitters would face in getting their points across: “The real challenges include the ability of the panel to complete this process within the statutory timeframe. It is likely that they will need to ask for an extension of time for the extra one year, taking the process from mid-2016 to mid-2017 for an operative plan.”

Mr Townsend said the panel’s decision that expert conferencing & mediation on topics at the regional policy statement level – including issues regarding the rural:urban boundary – was unscheduled & unlikely, meant the parties would proceed straight to hearing.

“This implies an assumption that these regional policy statement/rural:urban boundary issues do not lend themselves to informal settlement processes.”

It was clear from the first prehearing day on 2 September that panel chairman Judge David Kirkpatrick wanted submitters to confine themselves to what they really wanted to say, avoiding long-winded statements & cross-examination. But going straight to a hearing on the urban boundary would conflict with that submission preference.

The Property Council has asked the panel for guidance on whether it intends to make recommendations on the regional policy statement & rural:urban boundary issues before hearing & making recommendations on the district-wide policies objectives & rules.

Mr Townsend said: “The panel has sought & received legal advice on this issue, but has indicated it has made no decision on whether it will make a recommendation at the conclusion of hearings for relief on the regional policy statement, or whether it will wait until the end of the hearing of all matters in 2016.

“The issue that arises, if they choose the latter, is that the Resource Management Act requires that all district plan provisions ‘give effect to the regional policy statement’. Without knowing what the regional policy statement is, this is somewhat difficult.

“The problem compounds in situations where parties are preparing for a contested hearing and expert witnesses are trying to prepare evidence from different perspectives (eg, Environmental Defence Society versus major infrastructure or natural resource user).

“An expert witness for EDS and the expert witness for the infrastructure or natural resource user will come at the issue from different perspectives in terms of their interpretation of the regional policy statement. Without having the regional policy statement as a starting point, preparation of evidence in this situation is extremely difficult.”

Mr Townsend said another complication occurred when they panel decided to hear submissions on the rural:urban boundary, in the context of the regional policy statement, at the front end of the hearing schedule.

“At the same time, the panel has indicated that all submissions & relief in respect to places & precincts will be heard at the end of 2016. This creates difficulty.

“Unfortunately, many of the submissions seeking an extension of the rural:urban boundary do so in the context of providing for precinct plans – and all the evidence in relation to the extension of the rural:urban boundary is being prepared in support of a precinct.

“If, however, it is the intention of the panel to hear regional policy statement matters without expert conferencing or mediation, then it appears there is a disconnect between the evidence to support the extension of the rural:urban boundary and the evidence to support the case for a new precinct.

“A further issue is that, if we do not have clear information on the rural:urban boundary, this affects our understanding of issues in relation to growth & intensification – where, when, how. The extent & capacity of the rural:urban boundary would also have an effect on amenity, heritage & infrastructure. We cannot give authoritative evidence on what is required if we do not know the boundaries of the city.”

Attribution: Property Council release.

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