GUEST BLOG: Mike Lee – Responding to Auckland Council’s criticism of blog

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Bledisloe-Wharf-Extension-Comparison

Challenging the arguments of council officers in Council meetings can often lead to angry points of order from certain councillors and rebuke from the mayor, and his deputy in particular, for ‘criticising the officers’. Heavens! However getting into public debates with Council officers in the media or on blog sites is something I would never normally do. The mayor and councillors who support the political back-down on harbour reclamation should front up rather than officers.

However a Council statement officially ‘attributed to Dr Roger Blakeley Chief Planning Officer’ released by Council communications people last night challenging the veracity and fairness of my Daily Blog guest post does require a response.

Carefully skirting around the serious matters I raised in the article, Dr Blakeley, chooses to muddy the waters by challenging my use of the phrase ‘legally undefendable’ as the reason given by officers for their refusal to defend the council’s Unitary Plan policy of making harbour reclamation ‘non-complying’, and urging a back-down from this policy by the Council at a meeting on 12 February.

Dr Blakeley accuses me of ‘putting words in officers’ mouths’, which he protests is ‘inaccurate and unfair’. Frankly this is a straw man. The words used were not in quotation marks, not attributed to a named person and were actually taken from a report in the NZ Herald, but they are a pretty fair descriptive précis of the legalistic arguments made by the officers at the time, and indeed by Dr Blakeley himself, as the reason why these officers (and of course Dr Blakeley as their boss), refused to defend the democratically decided Council policy on harbour reclamation before the Unitary Plan commission. Has Dr Blakeley got a better way to explain this?

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Why he tries to muddle this up with the statement by Port company lawyer Mai Chen in 2013, who claimed at the time the policy was ‘illegal’, is hard to fathom. Unless to further muddy the waters, to distract attention from the very serious matter of Council officers keeping the existence of vital information from the councillors, namely the existence of legal advice that conflicted with their own legalistic arguments.

The legal advice by the RMA coastal specialists Cowper Campbell sought by a former council General Counsel in response to Ms Chen’s claims, stated inter alia that ‘there is no basis for the claims that Resolution 6 is illegal in that it breaches s 32 or breaches the Coastal Policy statement,’ as Ms Chen argued then and as Dr Blakeley and his officers argue now. The legal advice went on to say ‘Rather I prefer the option that all reclamation is a non-complying activity.’

This legal advice was only given to councillors after someone in the know tipped off the NZ Herald and its existence was revealed the day after the 12 February meeting.

We have a problem when vital information is withheld from councillors and the public on a matter of serious environmental concern to thousands of Aucklanders, and when legalistic arguments are raised by council officers which conflict with the legal advice they do have.

Perhaps Dr Blakeley, rather than trying to take on an elected representative in the Daily Blog should explain what looks like an abuse of process within his department, on his watch. While he is at, he could also explain why the two wharf extensions, the precursors of a major reclamation were consented without public notification and without notice to the councillors.

I will concede I did make an error in the article and that is that Ports of Auckland did not announce the planned wharf extensions as I assumed, rather we only learned about them via a tip-off to the Herald apparently from a whistle-blower within the waterfront industry. Conceivably work could have started on the first stage of this major reclamation in a couple of weeks-time without anyone knowing about it – apart from the Ports of Auckland, Dr Blakeley and his staff.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Just to make it clear and avoid any further opportunities
    for the Council spin doctors to split more
    hairs, the legalistic argument Dr Blakeley and
    his officers have in common with
    Mai Chen and the Ports of Auckland
    is that making reclamation non-complying
    breaches the NZ Coastal Policy Statement.
    It’s nonsense of course as their legal advice
    informed them. I look forward to the judicial review
    that will flush out this whole sorry affair.

  2. Thanks Mike. I too, was disgusted with the swift response of ‘shut down’ in discussion of this issue and guessed it was straight from the spin doctors from council at the expense of the ratepayers.

    Since then apparently the mayor has stormed out of a council meeting and refused to discuss the issues in the public domain.

    Like the ‘communications’ attributed to Blakeley a semantic discussion was used by Len Brown over the stoush.

    ‘I am the chair and I left because you have to listen to me’

    rather than actually working through a the problem of how the F**K the ports of Auckland managed to steal approx 1 km of harbour in NZ largest city without it being notified, without the councillors being aware of it, and then any discussions about it effectively banned by many parts of the council.

    Urban Auckland is taking legal action to stop the wharfs continuing unabated thank goodness. I look on with interest on what our elected councillors have to say on this issue and who’s side they are on.

    The sad thing is that private money must again be used to do the job the council resource consents officers should be doing and the councillors.

    I hope any review actually takes ACTION and gets rid of the corrupt rot in the council planners and barristers paid for by the ratepayers.

    Not just a white wash by predictable private consulting firms knee deep in the council trough.

  3. I don’t buy that Aucklander’s need bananas and cars so much and they HAVE to take up more room on Waitemata harbour without compensation or consultation. I’d prefer if they were moved off to a better location all together.

    We live in a city, it should not be the most greedy takes all. I suspect there is too many political ‘donations’ contributing to the fray with so many concessions given to Sky City, Ports of Auckland and so forth.

    Corporate Welfare MUST stop and so is corruption through donations to political campaigns and council officers must be held to account in the resource consents department.

    Barristers are going through the fine print of district plan for reasons to destroy, pollute and take away amenity to others to benefit one party.

    That is NOT how the district plan should be read, there are effects which need to be taken into account. Under the current council, effects are just ignored with semantic arguments being used to justify terrible decisions that benefit the applicant, to the detriment to the rest of Auckland.

    Hope Dr Blakely himself fronts up to discuss the ‘minor effects’ the ports extension will have on the Waitemata harbour and why he felt the council did not need to consult with anyone before it was approved.

    Arrogance or stupidity?

    And maybe if Dr Blakely didn’t approve it, he might like to whistle blow on who did and why?

  4. Thanks Mike for updating us. It’s ludicrous that Council officials are splitting semantic hairs to avoid uneasy questions about the port that call into question their very competence and integrity. I’ll say it again, the planning function at Auckland Council is now so broken, it needs top to bottom reform.
    For those of you in planning, remember this: you work for us, the ratepayers, not developers or big business!

    • Yes. And demand the hidden agendas are revealed. Losing the harbout to a carpark is repulsive, and could only eventuate if HIDDEN.
      Get on yer bike, Nikky. More serious opponents have already broken this criminal opportunistic venture.

  5. It is clear that the subterfuge and secrecy associated with the proposed reclamation was driven by an awareness on the part of the Ports of Auckland and the majority of the Auckland councillors that the work was opposed by the majority of Auckland citizens.

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