Auckland Council’s planning committee went close a month ago to rejecting a private plan change request from Orakei Point Trustee Ltd to rezone 413m² from open space to mixed use, and on Wednesday the committee did reject the proposal.
The reaction of developer Kerry Knight was that, although there was a housing shortage and this change would enable about 15 apartments to be added, “I’ve given up on the apartment block. We’ve got 30 shops and, coming up for its second year, $2.5 million of income.”
2 small cinemas will open this year – work is scheduled to start next week – and other small advances will be made, but Mr Knight said getting approval for apartments was too hard, and too expensive.
The council committee’s reason for rejecting this plan change was that “it is not in accordance with sound resource management practice, as it does not accord with the Resource Management Act purpose & principles”.
Council staff went to considerable lengths to explain that the role of the committee on applications for private plan changes was to choose one of 4 options – to support a plan change, deal with it as if it were a resource consent, adopt it as a council plan change or reject it.
On Wednesday, the committee had earlier voted to keep meeting until it had finished all business on its agenda, although some members, including mayor Phil Goff, had a 5pm appointment, putting the quorum in jeopardy. The committee began this agenda item by briefly losing its quorum, then carried on debating it for an hour.
During that time, several committee members departed for their 5pm appointment. When it came to a vote on the motion to reject the plan change, 10 favoured rejection, 5 opposed it and 8 members were absent.
The application was intended to enable the developer to shift the position of the proposed the 32-apartment Peninsula building 15.75m.
It was intended to be the first structure in a development totalling 500 apartments, as well as the retail village of 30 businesses already in place.
Mr Knight told me yesterday: “We realised it (the Peninsula building) was set too far back – it was a nonsense how it ended up there.”
The 2-year moratorium on plan changes following approval of the unitary plan ended last year.
Planning team leader Fiona Sprott told the committee the decision required of it did not open the discussion up to the full merits of the proposal, but an assessment of whether it met sound resource management practice.
The company wanted to rezone, to mixed use, a portion of open space that was to have been part of a council-owned coastal pathway but which is no longer required for that.
John Duguid said: “There’s nothing in this plan change that would enable the council to reject it.”
The planners had been asked in February to get more information about climate change impacts, and Mr Duguid said the plan change area was not within the 100-year 2m inundation zone.
However, Cllr Wayne Walker responded: “The information that I’m aware of, which informs me, is that the circumstance around those issues [sea level rise, coastal inundation, storm surge] is far worse than the planning information I’m presented with. So the consequence is that I’ll be voting against it. Because I know that, and I do not want to be held responsible at a future point in time.”
Cllr Desley Simpson said that in February she’d questioned a map showing no bridge across the channel from Hobson Bay into the Orakei Basin, and said information from Ngati Whatua was missing.
She said an Environment Court decision on Orakei Point as a transport-oriented development noted that it should be done in a comprehensive manner, but Auckland Transport was concerned it would proceed on an ad hoc basis, being assessed building by building instead of as a precinct.
Auckland Transport noted that “this will not result in a co-ordinated & integrated transport & land use response”, and said the proposed plan change would not keep the coastal edge.
Cllr Josephine Bartley said the plan change would restrict coastal access.
Cllr Mike Lee said: “I believe the system here is being games. The area here has long been the subject of debate & contention & controversy in the Orakei area.”
A settlement agreement had been reached but was now being unravelled, he said. The local board opposed it and the absence of a Ngati Whatua on the proposal concerned him.
“I am also concerned that here is a good example of private open space, and what we are doing is rendering that concept completely meaningless, because it seems a precedent is being set here, after a developer gains bonus densities & other advantages by having private open space and, when it suits then, can turn around and say, ‘Well, I want to develop it now, and unless you want to buy it I’m going to go ahead.’ That completely undermines the credibility of the concept of private open space.
“And given where this open space is, in the coastal environment on the edge of the CMA (coastal management area), it’s even more disappointing. What on earth happened to the Queen’s chain? Where’s our principles on that? Gone by the board, apparently, along with hand-wringing over sea level rise & all the rest of it. The fact of the matter is this is an extremely vulnerable area and if you drive along Tamaki Drive in a king tide it can be inundated.”
Cllr Daniel Newman said the merits needed to be considered by the hearing commissioner and hoped the decision would not be favourable to the applicant.
He said he’d support the recommendation for the plan change to proceed as a matter of process, but he thought bringing back papers rejected a month earlier but unhelpful.
Cllr Penny Hulse felt the committee was straying into the job of the hearing commissioners: “We can’t play fast & loose with the process because giving it a crack without a lot of information could be a very, very expensive crack. I would rather we go officially into the process and then test it rigorously.”
Cllr Christine Fletcher, who said she’d been involved with applications to develop the land when she was MP for the area and as Auckland City Council’s mayor, commented: “This is just blatant opportunism as I see it. It’s been a very long & painful history. Yes, I don’t want to see council exposed in a long & lengthening legal process, but we know at so many levels this is not a transport-orientated development, it just doesn’t fit with any of the legal criteria we’ve established here.”
Mr Duguid told the committee: “We are not saying, as officers, that on the merits we support this plan change. That is a matter for the independent hearings commissioners to determine, and council will present evidence on the merits. But there’s nothing jumping out to say it’s contrary to the RMA (Resource Management Act) in terms of sustaining resource management principles.
“In terms of open space, I think we do need to be very clear that it’s privately owned land that is zoned for open space. As with all private land without covenants on it, they could prevent public access at any stage if they chose to do so.”
As for opportunism, he said that was not a reason to reject an application for a hearing.
The recommendation to approve the application was lost 7-10.
The committee then went to a recommendation from Cllr Lee, seconded by Cllr Fletcher, that it reject Orakei Point Trustee’s plan change request to rezone 413m² because “it is not in accordance with sound resource management practice, as it does not accord with the Resource Management Act purpose & principles”.