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What is the hearings panel for Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan?

Public submissions for the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan are closed but a new chapter is beginning for the first combined resource management plan for the supercity.

The plan will replace the current Auckland Regional Policy Statement, four regional plans, and seven district plans with input from an eight-member hearings panel, which was appointed by Environment Minister Amy Adams and Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

At the last general meeting, planning manager Penny Pirrit told councilors that staff should have a list of public submissions compiled by mid-April and a summary of submissions in May.

Under the law governing Auckland’s transitional provisions, the council forwards “all relevant information” to the “specialist” hearings panel. The panel was chosen by the ministries following consultation with Auckland Council and the Independent Maori Statutory Board. 

Those consultations were held in private meetings and have not been made public by the council or ministries.

The hearings panel will hear submissions, hold hearings and make recommendations to council about changes. The council either accepts or rejects the recommendations but they cannot be changed at that point.

Under the law, the panel is allowed certain powers, such as calling a conference of experts to clarify issues relating to the plan. Auckland Council can “attend a conference under this section only if authorised to do so by the hearings panel,” the law says.

The council is responsible for paying the experts, mediators or other dispute resolution facilitators, as well as the renumeration of the panel’s members.

If the council rejects a hearings panel recommendation a submitter has a right to appeal to the Environment Court against any decision of the council.

The council’s decisions to accept a recommendation by the panel can only be appealed on points of law and those appeals would head to the High Court. There are exceptions for areas of designation and heritage orders.

Chairman David Kirkpatrick is a former resource management barrister who was appointed an Environment Court and District Court judge days after his appointment to the hearings panel.

Des Morrison is a former Auckland councillor and former director of New Zealand Steel. He served as a ward councillor for Franklin District as well as chairman of the Rural Advisory Panel and Regulatory Bylaws Committee. 

Janet Crawford is a resource management consultant who co-founded the Mediators Institute of New Zealand. She has been a research associate at Harvard University and senior research fellow at the University of Waikato and Massey University.

Paula Hunter is a planning consultant at MWH with experience in district and regional plan development. Ms Hunter was a strategic adviser for the Hamilton City District Plan review.

John Kirikiri is a former deputy mayor of Rodney District Council and a former member of the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board. He “has Tikanga Māori expertise in an RMA and emergency management context,” a ministry press release says.

Stuart Shepherd is a director at the Sapere Research Group and formerly worked for Vector and Telecom. His work as an economist has focused on infrastructure, including economic regulation in the airport, electricity, gas and telecommunications sectors.

Greg Hill is a resource management consultant with experience in chairing council hearings and technical expertise in air, land, water and coastal policies. He was previously a general manager of policy and planning at Auckland Regional Council,p and a principal author of the Auckland Regional Coastal Plan.

Peter Fuller is a barrister with experience in resource management, planning, environmental management, land development and building. Mr Fuller was a strategic policy analyst at the Auckland Regional Council, and project leader on the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy.

More by Stephanie Flores

Comments and questions

Hardly a broad spectrum here, looks like a selection from a club who all do business together. What was the criteria for the appointment process?

I'm trying to find more information about selection criteria, and there will be a follow-up next week from me at NBR ONLINE. The only information that has been publicly available so far is (a) the law which created this panel and (b) a press release announcing the members. Everything in the middle is a bit fuzzy right now.

The law says they should be familiar with the RMA, legal proceedings, local government plans, etc. But if a member is not familiar with these things, they aren't disqualified. See below.

Section 161 of the "Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Amendment Act 2013" says:

(161) Minister for Environment and Minister of Conservation to establish Hearings Panel

“(1) The Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Conservation must establish a Hearings Panel.

“(2) The Hearings Panel comprises—

“(a) a chairperson; and

“(b) 3 to 7 other members.

“(3) The chairperson and other members must be appointed jointly by the Ministers after consulting the Auckland Council and the Independent Māori Statutory Board.

“(4) The Ministers must appoint members who collectively have knowledge of, and expertise in relation to, the following:

“(a) the RMA; and

“(b) district plans, regional plans (including regional coastal plans), and regional policy statements or combined regional and district documents; and

“(c) tikanga Māori, as it applies in Tāmaki Makaurau; and

“(d) Auckland and the mana whenua groups and other people of Auckland; and

“(e) the management of legal proceedings, including cross-examination.

“(5) However, a failure to comply with subsection (4) does not affect the validity of the appointment of a member once made.

Where are the experience in addressing public concerns requirements for these appointees?

It looks like a group of right wing business and legal officianado's, with the one exception.

This is hardly a balanced group of people and representative of the ratepayers of Auckland.
I am sure many of them presented submissions to the council for the Unitary plan and therefore will only be rubbe rstamping their own or their colleagues work.