After 249 days of hearings, reviewing 13,364 public submissions, and receiving over 10,000 pieces of evidence the independent hearings on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan have come to an end.
With Auckland’s first Unitary Plan now entering the final stages of decision-making, we take a look at who will be making these decisions and how.
Council gets recommended an Auckland Unitary Plan
The Independent Hearings Panel is now considering their recommendations on changes they think should be made to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
This takes into account all of the submissions, hearings and evidence put before them over the past two years and will be presented to Auckland Council on the 22 July 2016. Until then the council does not know what will be recommended.
The recommendations will include:
- An amended Unitary Plan
- Overview report summarising the changes made to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan
- Reports on each topic providing the recommendations and the reasons for them.
Auckland Council now ‘decision-maker in waiting’
That means until the recommendations are received, the council’s role under the under the law, is now a bit like a jury waiting to hear closing arguments in a case.
In making their final decisions on the Auckland Unitary Plan, councillors can only take into account the Independent Hearings Panel’s final reports and recommendations.
They must not have regard to any further submissions or evidence not put before the Panel during the hearings.
This is different to the usual council decision-making process - where councillors can often take into account any views before making a decision - but it performs an important role in preserving the integrity of the public hearings of the Independent Hearings Panel over the last two years.
There’s a time frame
Once recommendations are received, the council has 20 working days to make and publicly notify its decisions, by 19 August 2016. Unless council seeks an extension of 20 working days and it’s approved by the Minister for the Environment.
Councillors will decide the Auckland Unitary Plan by making decisions on whether to accept or reject the Panel’s recommendations.
If the council rejects a recommendation it must explain why and provide an alternative solution based on public submissions made on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan together with a cost benefit analysis.
The council can accept a recommendation not within the scope of a submission but only where it is recommended by the Independent Hearings Panel. The Panel will explain why they have made such recommendations
What about appeals?
The law allows for the public to appeal council's decisions on the Auckland Unitary Plan to the Environment Court, but only on limited grounds.
If the council rejects a recommendation of the Independent Hearings Panel a person who made a submission on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan topic related to that recommendation can have full appeal rights to the Environment Court.
If the council accepts a recommendation made by the Independent Hearings Panel that is not within the scope of a submission, any person, whether they made a submission on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan or not, can appeal to the Environment Court if that person will be unduly prejudiced by the decision.
The special legislation for the Auckland Unitary Plan also allows submitters to appeal to the High Court on points of law.
What will the public get to see?
Decisions on the Auckland Unitary Plan will be fully transparent, with the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations published on the council’s website and council’s decisions made in public meetings, including:
- On 27 July the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations will be published on the Auckland Council website. This includes their reports explaining the recommended changes to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan and an amended Auckland Unitary Plan.
- In late August the council will make its decisions on the Auckland Unitary Plan in public council meetings. Meetings will be available to watch on the council's live streaming service.
- The council decisions will be publicly notified and widely available on 19 August 2016.