18 Nov 2015

'Culture of exclusion' at Christchurch Council

3:07 pm on 18 November 2015

Senior Christchurch City Council staff have been found to be fostering a "culture of exclusion" and keeping councillors uninformed.

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council Photo: RNZ

The criticisms are contained in a review ordered by the organisation's chief executive, Karleen Edwards, into shortcomings in the Replacement District Plan process.

The plan, which lays out where future development can take place, is being fast-tracked thanks to special government legislation, in order to expedite the city's recovery from the earthquakes.

The review described a "culture of exclusion" and criticised senior staff for not informing elected councillors of the changes being proposed.

It said in the absence of an approach agreed to by elected members, officials made assumptions that have proven to be questionable.

Parts of the plan that have already been signed off would not be considered best planning practice, said the review.

Dr Edwards, who was appointed as the council's chief executive after the district plan process had already started, ordered the review in May.

This followed criticisms from the Independent Hearing Panel, that ultimately decides on what shape the district plan should take, about the quality of the information it was receiving from council staff.

Dr Edwards said the compressed 18-month timeframe set aside for the process resulted in shortcomings, including the failure to keep councillors in the loop.

"There's no excuse for that but ....I can see how that would happen.

"We certainly need to make a greater effort to provide information in a way that is easier for our elected members to be able to do the job they need to do."

The council has now brought in a consultant, former Manukau City Council chief executive Leigh Auton, to help improve things in the six months still to run on the Replacement District Plan process.

He admitted council staff were guilty of adopting a business as usual approach to developing the plan when the circumstances of the post-earthquake recovery called for something quite different.

"The Independent Hearings Panel has responded....saying look, this is extraordinary times, there is an extraordinary situation in Christchurch and we need to respond to that."

An earlier report into the handling by council staff of resource consent and building consent applications also found staff wanting, and called for the council to be more proactive in dealing with the public.

The consents department was subsequently restructured.

Another wave of restructuring has taken place since then which has claimed the job of the council's head of planning, Michael Theelan.

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