As we know the Unitary Plan was rushed through the Council last year with extraordinary speed. Little or no time was given to consider the huge amount of public feedback – nor did the Council officers allow discussion on the serious criticism of the draft plan by legal reviewers. In fact they went to some lengths to conceal its existence absurdly claiming it to be ‘confidential to management.’
But there are always consequences to such haste, and one of the more serious is now starting to emerge. The revelation that the Council in adding 3600 sites of ‘cultural and heritage value to Maori’ to the 60 or so previously accepted sites, without first confirming their precise location or even their archaeological merits, is starting to cause concern. As Brian Rudman pointed out in his recent Herald column, this will impact on potentially thousands of Auckland properties located with 300 metres of such sites. I’m all for heritage protection but this seems a bit extreme, especially when you contrast it to the Council’s cavalier attitude to the demolition of 19th century villas.
What is even more concerning, is that rather than going to the Council for a consent, the householder living within proximity of these sites now has to first seek permission from an iwi authority to obtain a ‘Cultural Impact Assessment’ before the Council will do anything. Given there are 19 iwi now claiming manawhenua over Auckland, you can get an idea of the potential cost and inconvenience to residents. The Council is now trying to head off the growing public backlash by hiring ‘facilitators’ to act as go-betweens between the public and iwi.
While the issue is getting coverage in the media, the full story has yet to come out. What most people don’t realise is that also affected are properties within or near Auckland’s many and extensive Significant Ecological Areas (SEA’s). These residents too have to first obtain ‘Cultural Impact Assessments’ from iwi before they can get resource consents for work around their properties. One of the many criteria iwi will be assessing is whether your driveway job, vegetation clearance or earthworks is consistent with the ‘principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.’
What the Council has done is to sneak through what is in effect a parallel RMA authority in Auckland based on race. This creates a precedent that could have important future consequences.
Already resource management law experts like Professor Ken Palmer are challenging the legality of ‘Cultural Impact Assessments’, but the fact is these new provisions are now in force. Unless the Auckland Council reverses them, these provisions of the ‘Unitary Plan’ are likely to become a source of major social dis-unity in Auckland.
Published in the April edition of Verve Magazine.