St Lukes – ‘worse than a crime – a mistake’

Mike Lee’s speech to the Auckland Council opposing the St Luke’s expansion decision.

We have heard a lot about ‘fairness’ this morning – I want to know what’s fair about the Auckland Council – the ‘Super City’ – lining up with Westfield, the world’s biggest shopping mall owner – with a turnover of $22 billion a year against the people of local conmunity.  That’s not fair where I come from.

This business is not fair – by any definition – it is blatantly unfair.  Not only unfair – it is not rational – especially in terms of the sustainable development of Auckland.

There are two elements to this unsavoury affair – the process and the substantive matter itself.

First of all let me talk about the process.  What is clear about this is that the people of St Lukes – Mt Albert are the victim of a cynical political manoeuvre by the former Auckland City Council.  Knowing the depth of public feeling against this development – in what was a marginal electorate – the politicians held this decision over until after the election – and even then the matter was so odious they passed on to the new Council.

Well I don’t intend to rubber stamp this decision – I don’t want to be an accessory after the fact.

Shame on the politicians of Auckland City Council and shame on the officers for going along with this cynical manoeuvre.  When it suited them – they delayed the decision – and now as it suits them they can’t get the matter onto the agenda quick enough.  That’s the process – so let no-one tell us or the local community that this process is fair.

A huge amount of time and effort has gone into restructuring local government in Auckland – many people have lost their jobs, there has been major sacrifices made.  I for one believed that in the end those sacrifices, that price was worth paying for the vision of a united Auckland.  But along with structure change there is the expectation of culture change – but instead of culture change we have Auckland City Council business as usual.

 As regards to the substantive issue itself, there are serious concerns here.  If the Commissioners recommendations are accepted – this will be New Zealand’s biggest shopping mall.  A shopping mall which most planners would agree is in entirely located in the wrong place.  St Lukes is where it is because of  short-sighted decisions in the past – so why would we want to go and compound those mistakes. 

The argument has been made that this will be “good for business.”

First of all I would I contest the notion that the multi-national conglomerate Westfield represents the interests of the business folk of Auckland.  In fact allowing New Zealand’s biggest mall to be built in that area – will not only suck the commercial life out of the neighbouring genuine town centres – Like Mt Albert and Sandringham – it will also have a negative impact on other town centres – including Queen Street, Ponsonby Road and even Newmarket.  Overall this will be bad for business and bad for Auckland.

One of the tasks this council will have to accomplish is the drawing up of a ‘spatial plan’ – the government has placed much importance on this.  In fact the Prime Minister even gave us something of a lecture on the importance of completing this spatial plan before the government could consider funding the CBD rail link.  So why is it that while we have been told to hold off on beneficial projects like the CBD rail link – we are being rushed into making a decision on this project which will have huge impacts on the urban form and traffic flows on the central isthmus – and beyond.

The officer advice on this matter has not been balanced, – very little emphasis has on the major traffic problems this development will cause.  Doubling the size of the mall also includes doubling the size of the number of car parks.

Already there are major congestion problems in this area.  St Lukes Road has a 7 day average of 15,000 traffic movements – this is about the same number of traffic movements on the Puhoi to Wellsford section of SH1.  It is concerns with congestion on this section of SH1 which has prompted the government to budget $2 billion dollars for a brand new highway.   If traffic generated from the St Lukes Mall is to double imagine the impacts on traffic congestion this will bring.

There are other major fundamental flaws in this scheme.  The question of wastewater and storm water has not be adequately dealt with at all – and is in fact technically this development will be in breach of the Regional Policy Statement in this regard.

Its no solution to say – this is going off to the Environment Court regardless of what decision the Auckland Council makes.  And while I commend the mayor in offering to mediate between the parties, the fact is – if we rubber-stamp this decision we will be embarking on an adversarial court process – with the Auckland Council committed alongside Westfield – against the local community.  Wouldn’t it make sense to hold off making a decision on this – surely that would give more credibility to the mayor’s offer to mediate.

The people of St Lukes – Mt Albert have been treated shamefully.  There is a total disparity of power when it comes to these court processes.  The local community will not only have to pay for their own lawyers and expert witnesses – but through their rates they will be paying for the Auckland Council’s lawyers and expert witnesses who will be lined up with Westfield against them.  The local community had only one thing which could have equalised matters – that was the power of their vote.  But because of the cynical manoeuvre of postponing the decision until after they had voted – even that right was deliberately and cynically taken out of the equation.

Regarding the process itself and the commissioners’ recommendations – the officers’ advice appears to be the councillors have no choice but to accept the recommendations.  In other words our choice is to vote “Yes” or “Yes”.  But I reject that. We have the right to say no – we have the right of refusal.

Contrary to the officers’ advice assuring us that the process was sound and fair – it was not.

The Council has received complaints from the public about overt bias displayed by  individual commissioners in dealing with submitters.   Of course I wasn’t there so I can’t verify this – but complaints have been made and they need to be taken seriously.

Then there is the general concern about this process that the counsel for Westfield Mr Derek Nolan – at around the same time as leading this case in front of the commissioners was also interviewing candidates for positions in the Auckland Council.  It’s no fault of the officers that they were interviewed by Mr Nolan – but I hope that none of the officers who were unfortunate enough to be interviewed by Mr Nolan are involved in offering advice on this case.

Finally I think the strongest reason for having this case reheard is a technical one – which also involves the principle of natural justice.

At the same time as this process was running, Westfield’s lawyers were also involved in an appeal on another set of plan changes for the Regional Policy Statement.

As part of the ‘wash-up’ in settling those appeals – the lawyers for Westfield managed to get St Lukes to be designated a ‘Town Centre’.

However this happened after public submissions closed – and this matter was never made known to the general public at the time.  I was not aware of it myself.  But the commissioners were certainly aware of it and obviously appreciated its significance, more than anyone else (apart from Westfield).  The commissioners’ decision to approve the St Lukes development was very much based on that technical change to the ARPS – that St Lukes Mall was henceforth to be considered a ‘Town Centre’.

Regardless what one may feel about this fake Town Centre, if you read the commissioners’ decision, significant emphasis was placed on St Luke Mall’s newfound status as a Town Centre.  Something that the submitters were unaware of when they wrote their submissions.  No doubt if they had known, then their submissions would have been shaped quite differently to address this aspect of the case.  But as they didn’t know about this evidence they were unable to address it.  The submitters were unable to see all the evidence – critical evidence that the commissioners made their decision on.   The right to see all the evidence is a fundamental tenet of law.  That all evidence was not available to the public when they submitted is a fundamental flaw in this process and a major breach of natural justice.

This provides the Auckland Council with a compelling reason why the whole case should be reheard.

The people of Auckland have expectations that things would be different with the advent of the Super City.  They have those expectations because they have been led to believe that things would be different.  But what they are getting is business as usual.

Allowing to Westfield to go ahead with this would not only be unfair to the local community but would be a profound strategic error in terms of the urban shape and form of Auckland for decades to come..  As Chateaubriand once said of something Napoleon had done “It was worse than a crime – it was a mistake.”

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4 Responses

  1. Mike Lee says:

    Thanks Anthony but I dont think clogging up the central isthmus with cars – and overloading the already struggling retail sector does constitute progress.
    Nor will it help the overall economy.

  2. Alan Brabant says:

    Mike Lee what a coincidence .Had just written to you re other transport matters
    then noticed your comments to Council I agree with all you say ; Go back to when those residents were collecting funds to fight the original St Lukes project .Construction was stopped ;BUT site rock clearance continued .Clearly words
    had been made “slow up,let local complaints be made then it will be approved”

    • Mike Lee says:

      Thanks Alan,
      and thanks for your interesting letter – especially the comments about Robbie and Tom Pearce. I will pass on to Sandra Coney.

  3. Peter Buchanan says:

    Another example of notational consultation and political influence on the process by the previous Auckland City Council….they were quick to introduce bylaws against graffiti but URBAN blight such as shoe box apartments, Scene 1 and 2 apartments in Beach Rd, Kings and Queens apartments in Newmarket and enormous interfacial tensions created by Plan Change 196, the adverse effects will last for generations.
    I would support a public enquiry about the previous Auckland City Council Councillors and Planning practices..also look at the Wynard Wharf legacy which Auckland Council has inherited.

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