10 Jul 2013

Coney barred from review

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Written by: Bernard Orsman
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 10 July 2013

Request to see legal response on new rulebook denied.

Sandra Coney. Photo / NZPA

Sandra Coney. Photo / NZPA

Auckland Council’s senior management are refusing to give councillor Sandra Coney access to a legal review of the new planning rulebook for the city.

Ms Coney considers it essential to have access to the review to make good decisions on the rulebook – or Unitary Plan – that sets out more intensified housing to squeeze another one million residents into the city.

The council has undertaken a legal review of the plan, which chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley told Ms Coney was very specific and to help staff ensure it was legally correct for formal notification.

She disagreed. “You seem to think you can judge what is necessary for me to govern. This is fundamentally wrong. The legislation charged elected people with the responsibilities and accountability to govern well, not the management,” Ms Coney wrote in an email to Dr Blakeley.

Following a series of emails on the issue, chief executive Doug McKay said last Thursday he, Dr Blakeley and general counsel Wendy Brandon had disagreed with each of Ms Coney’s requests.

He said there was a difference between management and governance “and we have a duty to ensure advice we give is legally and technically accurate”.

Yesterday, Ms Coney made a fresh attempt to access the legal review based on advice she received from lawyer and local government expert Grant Hewison.

As a member of the Auckland Plan committee considering the Unitary Plan she was entitled to have access to the legal review, Mr Hewison said.

He said councillors should have access to information that is necessary to enable them to properly discharge their duties under what is known as the “need to know” test – a principle ruled on by the House of Lords and applied by the Ombudsman in New Zealand.

Mr Hewison was not persuaded by Dr Blakeley’s reasons for withholding the review, saying it was within Ms Coney’s duties as a councillor to assure herself the plan was legally correct.

He believed the “need to know” principle was so important it should be set out in Auckland Council policy, perhaps in the code of conduct for elected members.

Council management had no comment on Ms Coney’s advice from Mr Hewison.

Sir Brian Elwood, when he was the Ombudsman, commented that under the “need to know” test, a councillor is entitled to have access to all information for which there is good reason for such access. The onus, he said, was on the councillor to show that access to the information is necessary to enable proper discharge of their duties.

In a submission on the draft Unitary Plan, the council water body Watercare Services said the document would face “numerous legal and practical hurdles” if notified as is.


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