So yesterday the council decided to withdraw its evidence on residential rezoning yesterday. A big part of the Council’s reason was the issue of “out of scope” zoning changes. Councillor after councillor highlighted that they (supposedly) support intensification, but for it to be somewhere away from their area. It’s worth noting that most of these councillors from both sides of the political spectrum have opposed intensification at every step of the way. This time they used the excuse that they had significant concerns with the process of how the zoning changes have been made, in particular the inability of people to respond to changes that were not asked for in submissions – known as “out of scope” zoning changes.
There’s some logic in having an issue with this process – it doesn’t seem fair and would be against natural justice – if the changes sought weren’t highlighted in any submissions. However, this actually isn’t true. For example, our submission on the PAUP in February 2014 highlighted a number of areas where we wanted zoning changes to upzone areas and enable more growth capacity – I’ve highlighted our submission point requesting upzoning of the central isthmus area from Mixed Housing Suburban to Mixed Housing Urban:
|Maps – Central Isthmus||Areas zoned Mixed Housing Suburban within the area bounded by New North Road in the west, the city fringe in the north, SH20 in the south and Great South Road in the east should be considered for rezoning to Mixed Housing Urban.||The central isthmus has the best public transport accessibility of any part of Auckland, plus a gridded street network and frequent centres of various scales. It also has significant market demand for development.
Rezoning areas from Mixed Housing Suburban to Mixed Housing Urban would enable a wider variety of housing typologies in an area suitable for growth because of its public transport access and other amenities. Mixed Housing Urban would still retain the broad character of the area.
Mixed Housing Suburban area generally avoid places where Special Character overlays are applied.
There are also bunch of other areas where we have also requested zoning changes – like Meadowbank, Greenlane, Morningside, Grey Lynn and Mt Roskill. We specifically highlighted these requested zoning changes for the reasons outlined in the right-hand column and we expected the Council to consider changing its zoning pattern in the Unitary Plan due to our submission.
The way the public notification process works, to ensure natural justice, is that once submissions have been made they are then published and people can make further submissions for or against submissions they are interested in. We would fully expect people in the areas concerned who oppose the idea of our submission to make a further submission against it (from memory some did) enabling us to then go to the hearings and argue the case. But hey, we’re just a blog and I guess some people might not think to check out our submission.
However, the submission made by the Minister for the Environment (at the time) Amy Adams, on behalf of the government is the kind of submission that interested people should have looked at – given the Independent Hearings Panel was appointed by the Government and, hey, because they’re the Government. So what does that submission say about upzoning?
Some pretty big concerns there – especially about the extent to which the Proposed Plan provided the level of necessary development capacity – including a specific concern about a misalignment between where demand is (i.e. in central areas) and where capacity has been provided (i.e. not in central areas). The Minister then goes on to be more specific about the Government’s concerns in relation to the level of capacity enabled by the Proposed Plan:
This is a pretty clear direction that a major submitter has requested significant changes to the plan’s zoning pattern to provide more housing supply, especially in market attractive areas. This is what the Council’s now withdrawn evidence went and did. Fundamentally Council staff made a gigantic mistake by calling some of the zoning changes “out of scope”. There is good reason to argue the changes were very much in scope, responding to points made in our submission, the Government’s submission and others (like Housing New Zealand who argue in a lot of detail that the changes are in scope). Had they done that then today wouldn’t have happened.
Given that the resolutions passed only excluded “out of scope” evidence, I wonder whether there will be some legal arguments about whether the Council’s evidence truly was out of scope. I certainly hope so as at the moment it seems like our submission has been able to be ignored solely because we didn’t identify the individual address of every house we suggested should have its zoning changed. Where’s the natural justice in that?
In fact, I’ll go further, the council’s decision to remove withdraw its evidence of the basis that people affected didn’t get a chance to have a say is insulting to all of those like us who put in a lot of time and effort to understand and respond to both the draft and Proposed Unitary Plan. To suggest this late in the piece that some who couldn’t be bothered before to make a submission should suddenly get to jump on a bandwagon is outrageous, especially as those behind this opposition only want others who oppose the plan like them to have a say.
So where to now?
From what I understand it’s not as simple as just reversing the wrongly called ‘out of scope’ changes made in December. Those changes were made based factors such as a result of analysing submissions, updated evidence and interim guidance from the hearings panel. As mentioned by council staff yesterday, they now can’t stand up and defend the plan as proposed in 2013 without breaching profession standards as doing so would mean them deliberately ignoring evidence or using evidence they know to be false.
Submitters like Housing NZ who have very detailed submissions are likely to have a greater say in the outcome decided by the panel. During the debate Councillor Alf Filipaina highlighted the extent of intensification Housing NZ were suggesting in their submission compared to what the council proposed. This is shown below and as you can see is a significant increase (he didn’t mention the numbers for south or east)
It’s also clear that the council need to do a better job of enabling better representation. Those at the meeting to try and support the Unitary Plan, especially anyone young, were heckled and jeered at by the largely elderly crowd. Is it any wonder it’s so hard to get youth to participate in the democratic process when people act like a pack of two year olds throwing a tantrum.
Ultimately the fate of the zoning will come down the Independent Hearings Panel who will report back to the council in July. Within 20 days of that the council will need to decide whether to support or oppose what the IHP suggest. This vote suggests many of these councillors will oppose the plan if it enables intensification or even just maintaining what’s possible now. If that happens it will open up the plan to challenges in the environment court delay it for possibly many years to come. Ultimately I think the be approved for the simple fact is it’s supported by the evidence.