Environment Court slaps Len’s face

Len Brown Smack faceOn Wednesday the Environment Court released a very interesting decision that is bound to have wiped the smile of Len Brown’s face today. The Herald has an article about it, but misses the important factors.

Plan Change 163 was an Auckland Council attempt to list properties in the Residential 1 and 2 zones of Auckland.

The decision is fascinating because it is highly unusual for the Court to make comments about process, time and who is to blame for delays and issues of process. Judge Smith has gone further to detail an anatomy of delay and has squarely pointed his finger at  Auckland Council with a 15 page savage ankle biting.

But first the background.

Auckland Council recently courted Government officials and ministers in an attempt to seek legislative change to benefit a fast track process on the Unitary Plan that would give effect to the plan on notification.

In argument Council justified that the process if appealed would likely take 3-6 years and so it additionally sought that appeals rights be limited to matters of law – which is a blatant attempt to stop the Environment Court from interfering with the plan it feels is ‘perfecto’.

To back its position, the Council foolishly fingered the Court for delays in past plan changes stating that the Court is the reason things take so long. 

A spectacularly bad move.

The Environment Court is not happy so it is of no surprise for it to have issued such a humiliating decision for Auckland Council.

The decision details a blunderbuss of mistakes and delays caused by Council and expresses ‘significant concern, both at the process and approach of the Council’.

The Court comments include a 12 page appendix time line analysis of the key steps in the process and Judge Smith comments:

‘This shows the sorry history of this appeal, from its filing in March 2007 until it’s presentation in this Court today. I don’t intend to cover every single aspect of that matter. However, given the criticism by members of Council of this Court taking upto 7 years to process appeals, it is perhaps appropriate that we look in some detail at the way in which this appeal has progressed. I must say that it is symptomatic of my experience with other appeals for other districts, including Rodney, where appeals before the Court took some two years to process, while the procedure through its various stages at district level took over 10 years.’

The Environment Court is pissed off and rightly so.

Council has a legacy of delay and poor performance where it concerns plan changes and it was utterly stupid to contemplate digging a knife into the Court and in doing so has created a venomous enemy who can cause considerable damage to Council credibility – as this decision shows.

Reading through the balance of the decision it continues to highlight substantial errors by Council and finish with questions as to how much of rate payer’s money has been wasted by Council undertaking such a poorly managed process.

Basic errors include the inclusion of 150 dwellings that were incorrectly assessed which resulted in substantial opposition. Overall Council appears to have dealt with issues and process as badly as a three year old ties it’s shoe laces.

To the lay person this decision means what?

In a nut shell – it is a severe undermining of the credibility of Auckland Council and deservedly so.

Auckland Council should not have been so foolish as to have criticised the Court without justification. The property industry and legal community will often speak of the vexed nature of Plan Change processes and how those are consistently delayed by Council who fumble through the process like a bunch of amateurs.

If Mayor Brown thought his Council had a chance of convincing the Government to legislate changes to fast track the process they went about it the wrong way.

Arrogantly Council officers and politicians have fingered everyone else and incredulously refused to accept responsibility for their ineptitude.

The Court is right to be annoyed. They have a difficult and pressured job dealing with poor decisions by Councils relating to consents but also plan changes.

It would be acceptable to infer that if Council thinks it does a good job why do so many of their plan changes get referred to Court via the appeals process where they are obfuscated and complicated by Council at every step.

And why would Council think it could finger a Court who spends so much time resolving the mistakes made by that Council and who can therefore demonstrate it.

Did Council really think the Court would sit back and let that happen?

Lenny B and his Generals have again bungled matters. This is clearly another example of how utterly useless Council is at performing it’s functions and how poor the advice is they get from their legal Counsel at Simply Gruesome.

Rather than point the finger, Council could accept that its past performance is quite abysmal and that it lacks credibility as a result.

Council could also accept that it has alienated itself from the property industry, lawyers and now the Court creating some very big and powerful enemies who are sharpening their knives and loading their guns.

The fact it has made such substantial enemies really does raise questions about Council. From the Mayor down to the officers there appears to be a fumbling array of mistakes and contemptuous behaviour. Shitting on the people, organisations and industries one needs to support their plan is not a great way to start.

The wholistic package of issues and resulting train wrecks coming to light are making the Council and it’s CCO’s look like part of the Italian political arena.

And so because the Auckland Council are going about business like an Italian government it is appropriate to rename the Unitary Plan the ‘Italy Plan’.

This post was written by the The Property Merovingian

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.