2 Mar 2016

Auckland's density housing saga rumbles on

7:48 am on 2 March 2016

The political revolt against some of Auckland Council's higher density housing proposals may have scored only a partial victory.

Auckland City Council building

Auckland Council voted to withdraw parts of the argument for higher density housing but an apparent workaround might take place. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) considering the city's Unitary Plan says the council's previously-lodged arguments for higher density will remain before it, and can be argued by other submitters.

It is also not clear whether the council will be able to prevent its staff from being drawn into discussion on the parts of the case that councillors voted last week to withdraw.

More on the housing density debate

The rules of how the Unitary Plan hearing will work have begun to emerge a week after a majority of councillors voted to withdraw parts of the higher density argument for the eastern suburbs.

The councillors had responded to a community meeting of 700 in Kohimarama and lobbying that argued up-zonings that allowed three-storey townhouses or apartments were out of order.

While the vote went 13-8 in favour of withdrawing part of the case, it is the IHP which sets the rules, and it has wide powers on what it can consider.

In an exchange of formal documents yesterday, IHP chair judge David Kirkpatrick made it clear that the council's evidence, including portions to be withdrawn, would remain in play.

"The evidence that you [the council] refer to in your memo will be staying on the AUPIHP website and any party is free to refer to, or adopt, the material of another party as part of the presentation of their case," he directed.

RNZ News understands at least one submitter is considering adopting the contentious part of the council's case.

What remains unclear is whether the council can put up staff as "expert witnesses" for only part of the full residential zoning case which it lodged last month.

The Auckland Council had sought an assurance from the IHP that staff it put up as witnesses would not be asked to comment on areas that councillors had subsequently voted should be withdrawn.

"Without such confirmation, the council will not be able to call those affected witnesses," it wrote.

Judge Kirkpatrick could not give that assurance.

"It is essential that a person giving expert evidence does so on an independent basis, and not affected by the position of the submitter calling that witness," he wrote in a second memo.

A spokesman for the council would say only that it was reviewing its position for the affected hearings, which begin on Monday.

It must decide whether to allow staff to appear, with the risk they may be questioned on areas overturned by the councillor vote, or to prevent staff from arguing any aspect of residential re-zoning.

It was also not clear whether the panel can, or would, choose to order council witnesses to appear.

At issue are re-zonings deemed to be "out of scope", that is, changes made that were not called for previously in submissions.

But even that is uncertain. It is the IHP that will rule during the next two months what is in or out of scope.