Auckland councillors have made a last-minute decision that will mean the debate on the city's future planning rulebook won't include its Māori board members.
The council's Development Committee was on Wednesday meant to sit down for the first of what may be a week or more of meetings to hammer out the Unitary Plan - which will dictate what can be built in Auckland for at least a decade and could dramatically change the city's density and shape.
But in a surprise move, the committee agreed to bypass itself, and to send all the decision-making to the city's governing body - which includes only councillors and cuts out the two Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB) members who sit on the committee.
The council said the decision had been supported by the IMSB, and would remove any potential conflict of interest that had arisen over the Māori board's earlier submissions to the planning process.
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said the IMSB had shown leadership in supporting the decision.
"Their contribution and support over the past four years has been vital to shaping a Unitary Plan that will deliver a better future for all Aucklanders, and they have brought mana, partnership and sound advice to this process from day one," she said.
Among key issues for Māori in the Unitary Plan is a recommendation to maintain protections for sites with value to Mana whenua - a position which the independent panel that drew up the draft of the plan said wasn't justified with evidence.
The governing body now only has until August 19 to make their final decision on the plan, which could see areas rezoned to fit more than 400,000 new homes into Auckland.
The council also has an option to ask the Environment Minister for a 20-day extension to the August 19 deadline, although Penny Pirrit, Auckland Council's Director of Regulatory Services, said councillors would likely have to give the process a genuine go before turning to that.