The Unitary Plan debate has flared up again as Council and submitters prepare to present their cases before the Independent Hearings Panel into which zones go where across Auckland.
We've seen reports and commentary on a meeting in East Auckland on Tuesday night where “concerned” residents heard Richard Burton of lobby group Auckland 2040 bang on about how the Council is trying to dupe residents into accepting more intensification across the City. He told Fairfax that so-called "out of scope" changes will bypass the usual process of public submissions and that insead the changes will go straight to the Panel.
Burton could not be more wrong if he tried.
Penny Pirrit, who initially handled the Unitary Plan for the Council before it got handed to John Duguid, did get quoted in the Fairfax story on how the Council works through writing up the evidence it sends to the Panel. She explained that the proposal put forward by the Council is only a preliminary position and that any out of scope changes are based on the feedback Council received from the public in the earlier stages of the process.
What I hope do is go a bit further into that – and further refute what Burton has falsely claimed.
Formally, what is coming up next month is the Panel's hearings on Topic 081 – Rezoning. Auckland Council itself is a submitter to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, just like me and 9400 other primary submitters. What does that mean? It means Council is able to file what is called Primary Evidence (the initial evidence on what Council would like in the Unitary Plan ) and rebuttal evidence (evidence against or in support of other submitters), before fronting up to present its evidence and take any questions from the Panel itself.
This process is exactly the same for submitters like myself who submitted on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan in early 2014. I have been through the process twice now and am about to go through it for a third time in April, when I will be making my case for upzoning areas in Manukau City Centre and the residential area to its south.
Here's how Council and a private submitter approach a Topic hearing.
- The Auckland Development Committee chaired by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse takes a position on where it would like Council evidence to go in relation to a specific topic. It instructs the planners who go to the hearings what frame the evidence will take based on matters Penny Pirrit mentioned to Fairfax.
- Planners write the Primary Evidence to the topic bearing in mind outcomes of previous topics, interim guidance set by The Panel chaired by Judge Kirkpatrick and the Regional Policy Statement on Urban Growth.
- Evidence is lodged to the Panel and submitters then get to read it.
- Submitters then write and lodge their own Primary Evidence, often supporting or rebutting what Council has written in its Primary Evidence.
- Council then has the chance to rebut (as do other submitters) the Primary Evidence written by submitters
- Council then presents its case to the Panel, followed by other submitters. The Panel will then ask questions as required.
- The Panel concludes the topic hearing by either writing interim guidance or producing a recommendation at the end of all the hearings.
Exact same as the above, although we take our own positions in what we are presenting to the Panel.
Previous public submissions aren’t the only the thing the Council must take into account. In considering its position and writing its Primary Evidence, the Council must (like all submitters) take heed of all interim guidance and outcomes of previous topic hearings and make sure it is complying with the Regional Policy Statement in producing its evidence.
The reduction of the area designated Single House Zone is a good example. The Panel in an interim guidance effectively forced a review of the pre-1944 Demolition Overlay. The Council had basically devised the Single House Zone as a tool to help bring into effect that overlay, so when the overlay was scaled back, the Council could no longer defend the Single Housing Zone and followed the Regional Policy Statement in upzoning to Mixed Housing Suburban and Mixed Housing Urban. This happened across the isthmus.
As I pointed out here in Fact Check: #UnitaryPlan Residential Zones, the consequences of previous hearings and interim guidances around the Regional Policy Statement have triggered greater levels of upzoning in parts of Auckland. Mainly because there was not enough viable capacity to provide the 60% level of “intensification” needed in Auckland and indicated by the RPS in Topic 013.
Long story short: Council’s Primary Evidence into the rezoning is of consequence to all other hearings and all other evidence by submitters to those previous hearings. That's what the Resource Management Act requires.
But the most important part that Burton, Desley Simpson and others fail to mention is this:
The Panel could very well reject what the Council or any submitter has called for in the hearings and give very different recommendations in order to meet the requirements of the Regional Policy Statement.
So what Council is presenting IS NOT FINAL.
Final is when the Panel gives its recommendations back to the Auckland Development Committee and that committee adopts those recommendations from The Panel. Of course appeals (most often by the submitters ) can be lodged afterwards but in limited circumstances. Private Plan Changes (changes to the Plan made by anyone but Council) face a two year stand -own once the Unitary Plan goes live in August.
So do not panic Auckland, please. Council is not duping you in the slightest, no matter what Richard Burton tries to shill in the media and at meetings. All Council has done is present its evidence in consequence of other topic hearings. Submitters are doing the same now as I have here.
Nothing is final until the Panel gives its final recommendations and Council adopts them. As Judge Kirkpatrick recently stated, there is no need for extra consultations given that all Council is doing is filing its own evidence, just as I am, in regards to rezoning.
So the threat that the five Councillors will to force the Council to withdraw the proposed zone changes outlined in Council evidence is very dumb indeed. Submitters like me don't like being dicked around by Council chopping and changing its evidence. It makes our case and evidence writing that much harder. It also invites Government intervention, as we saw with Three Kings.
The Council’s case will stand or fall on its points before the Panel, as will mine.
And if you did not submit to the Unitary Plan in 2014 because you were happy with what was proposed then and there have been changes now which you don’t like, then tough. Let that be a lesson that you should submit even in support of something. Because if changes do happen, then least you can be involved!
Ben Ross is the founder of TotaRim Consultancy Ltd, a niche urban and transport planning, and advocacy business located in Auckland. He blogs at Talking Auckland.