Unitary Plan: Auckland's future set to be revealed

Auckland (file)
Auckland (file)

After 249 days of hearings and more than 10,000 pieces of evidence, Aucklanders are about to find out what the future holds for the city.

On Friday, Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town will be given a USB stick. It'll contain a 1000-page document put together by an expert panel that's spent nearly two years figuring out what changes need to be made to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP), before it becomes law.

That could come as soon as a month from today. August 19 is the day Auckland Council is required to make its decisions public.

"We are at the end of the process," Penny Pirrit, council director or regulatory services told media on Tuesday.

"There is no further opportunity for submitters to put forward whether they like the panel's recommendations or not. It's basically now decision time - it's been almost five years... the council needs to make a decision."

The panel was appointed by the Government. It has gone through about 13,500 submissions on the PAUP.

Councillors will be briefed on the panel's recommendations on Wednesday July 27, with both the public and the Government finding out what's in it later that same day.

"The Government, like everybody else, [will see it] when we put it on the website," says Ms Pirrit. "They will not have access to it before Wednesday."

Council staff will spend the next couple of weeks going over the recommendations with councillors.

"It's going to be very complex, a lot of pages to get through, so the first thing as staff we should be doing is helping the councillors understand the complexity," says Ms Pirrit.

Between August 10 and August 18, councillors will decide which recommendations to accept and which, if any, to reject. The council says the meetings will be "fully transparent", open to the public and available to watch online.

It has to notify the public of its decisions by August 19, unless the Minister for the Environment gives them an extension of up to 20 days. Either way, Auckland should have a plan in place before the local body elections in October.

Councillors aren't able to reconsider anything in the plan which wasn't looked at by the expert panel.

If councillors want to reject a recommendation from the panel, they have to provide an "alternative solution that is within the scope of submissions". That is, someone had to suggest the council's preferred alternative during the submission process. This however means anyone who made a submission on that particular topic can make an appeal to the Environment Court.

"If we don't accept the provisions that the panel are recommending, we would have to put forward alternative provisions, and also provide a cost-benefit analysis of those alternative provisions, then there would be an appeal period," says Ms Pirrit.

The panel may make recommendations that didn't come from the public. If the council accepts any of these, anyone can make an appeal to the Environment Court, whether they originally made a submission or not - as long as that person "is, was or will be unduly prejudiced by the decision".

The council cannot reject a recommendation and substitute it with something wholly new - it has to be either from the panel, or from a public submission.

There will be a public inquiry line for anyone with questions on the recommendations from next Wednesday. The council also hopes the panel will provide a new, complete text of the Auckland Unitary Plan including its recommendations, as well as updated maps showing changes to zones.

"People will be able to go in and look up their property on the map and see if their zoning has been changed, go to the residential provisions and see if the panel is recommending any amendments," says Ms Pirrit.

"But we do need to be clear that it's all recommendations - no decisions have been made. I wouldn't be recommending to anybody that they make decisions based on what they see on Wednesday, because that's just a recommended version of the plan, not the decision version of the plan, which won't happen until August 19."

The council will make an effort to let locals know what the plan means for them after it's agreed on, not before, to avoid giving the impression there will be more consultation with the public on its contents.

"That would just lead to confusion amongst the community," says Ms Pirrit.