BUSINESSDESK: A High Court judge has clipped Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's emergency powers by setting aside a decision by Mr Brownlee to prevent residential development on private land around Christchurch International Airport and deny the owners any further right of appeal.
Using powers granted under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, the minister backed local governments and the airport in rejecting land for housing, involving a group of private developers who had been battling over the detail of a Christchurch airport quiet zone for years before the quakes.
The decision is a political blow for Mr Brownlee, but he says it doesn't affect other swathes of land urgently opened up for residential land to replace red-zoned suburbs in Christchurch and Kaiapoi.
Justice Lester Chisholm said Brownlee "stepped outside the legal limits" of his CERA Act powers and made a "serious error" in denying the developers appeal rights.
‘‘To the extent that it addresses urban limits, it is addressing issues that existed long before the earthquakes and it provides solutions that are likely to endure well beyond the expiry of the CER Act,’’ the judge said.
A "corridor" allowing the airport to operate without hindrance near residential areas had been a key part of Canterbury's Regional Policy Statement, a strategic document agreed between the local government entities of the region, which was effectively torn up by the requirements of quake recovery.
Christchurch airport had earlier been instrumental in opposing proposed residential development by several private investors, the largest investor being Independent Fisheries, a major South Island fish processor.
They objected when their development opportunity was wiped out while Brownlee cleared other land near Kaiapoi, also within the strategic air corridor, for new housing.
The so-called Proposed Change-1 appeals had been causing uncertainty and were taking time council officials did not have when responding to the quakes, said Mr Brownlee last night.
"Questions over the status of the 50-decibel noise contour line around Christchurch airport were at the heart of much uncertainty."
The government saw it as "very important for the country's economy" to keep New Zealand's second international gateway airport operating and to ensure its future operations were not impeded as Christchurch still expected strong growth in the future.
"Crucial to my decision was freeing up land in Kaiapoi, where about quarter of the town had been significantly affected by the earthquakes."
The airport had "reluctantly" agreed to allow housing around heavily hit Kaiapoi.
The developers argued Mr Brownlee had granted the land designations to assist fast creation of the regional plan endorsed by the Canterbury Regional, Christchurch City, Waimakariri and Selwyn District Councils, and the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Mr Brownlee said the decision "won't hinder recovery because important elements of the Crown’s decision still stand".
"Amendments to the CCC and Waimakariri District Plans remain unaffected, meaning the developments in Kaiapoi, Prestons Road and Halswell West are able to continue under the district plan provisions."
Mr Brownlee said his "motivations for the changes were sound and the actions necessary in the situation" but gave no hint of an intention to appeal the decision.
RAW DATA: Read the full judgment (PDF)