27 Jul 2016

Councillors' votes up in air because of their opinions

6:29 am on 27 July 2016

Personal submissions by three Auckland councillors on the city's planning blueprint may affect their right to vote in crucial meetings next month.

Councillor Sharon Stewart has written a wide-ranging submission which sought the rejection of the proposed Unitary Plan, and raises questions about a potential a conflict of interest.

Mrs Stewart wrote a lengthy and strong-worded submission opposing provisions that could give mana whenua a bigger role in decisions affecting sites with special cultural values.

"The transfer of rights, power, co-governance and the ability to charge property owners for unwanted services of dubious value, by one group defined by race alone, may be seen as un-democratic, as introducing a form of economic and social apartheid, and as what may be seen in the future as electoral fraud," wrote Mrs Stewart in 2014.

She submitted the changes "leave significant opportunity for not only corruption in the future, but also set out the potential for never ending demands by Mana Whenua for further, and increased rights and powers."

She also opposed intensification of housing in parts of her Howick ward, where she was re-elected unopposed in 2013.

The Unitary Plan has been created after 249 days of hearings before the panel, with the most contentious area being the intensification of housing across Auckland.

Councillors and the public will get their first look today at the independent hearing panel's recommendations.

Mrs Stewart told RNZ she still expected to be able to vote on all or most of the plan, despite the views expressed in her submission.

"I will be seeking more advice, it has been a little disappointing the advice we've been given, or not given along the way," she said.

Albany ward councillor Wayne Walker's personal submission was to retain or reduce the housing intensification in the street in which he lives in Manly on Whangaparaoa Peninsula.

He believed he could still vote on residential zonings, other than his street.

"What I will need to do is to indicate quite specifically that I'm not taking any part in the vote on that particular item," he told RNZ. He had already had advice from council staff.

Manukau ward councillor Arthur Anae submitted on a waterfront villa he owns in Devonport, querying heritage provisions and supporting the upzoning of the immediate neighbourhood, and also lodged a follow-up submission.

Mr Anae said he didn't expect that to affect his ability to vote on any aspect of the plan.

Councillors are being urged to seek legal advice from council lawyers to weigh up potential conflicts of interest before the vote in mid-August on whether to implement the Unitary Plan. Special sessions have been set up next week.

The council would not comment, pointing out it is the responsibility of individual councillors to decide whether they have a potential conflict of interest, and seek advice on it.