The ‘rural-urban boundary’ planning tool has been preserved on Waiheke after an out-of-court settlement.
An agreement between the island-based Straits Protection Society and Auckland Council reverses a decision the council made last August, after the Unitary Plan hearings process.
The agreement led to a ruling this week by High Court Judge Christian Whata that the rural urban boundary as it affected the Hauraki Gulf islands was “outside the scope of submissions” made on the unitary plan.
The deal heads off a costly court battle and effectively means existing rural-urban boundary lines on the island remain in force. Straits Protection Society had sought a judicial review in the High Court and was prepared to go to the Environment Court to ensure Waiheke’s rural landscape was spared from the prospect of large-scale subdivision.
“This is a great outcome for Waiheke and for the Straits Protection Society,” spokesman Paul Walden told the Gulf News. “We have achieved what we set out to achieve which was fundamentally to overturn the decision of the council.”
The agreement between the parties is not quite the end of the affair – the case will go to the Environment Court for a ruling on the merits of the RUB mechanism in the council’s Regional Policy Statement.
But Mr Walden believes the outcome will be the RUB’s reinstatement at the Regional Policy Statement level of the unitary plan, the council’s primary planning document.
The planning tool has for nearly two decades helped to limit suburban sprawl outside the main villages and avoid large-scale housing subdivision on the island’s rural eastern half. But under Government pressure to free-up more land for housing in the Auckland region, the unitary plan hearings panel last year recommended that the RUB planning tool be downgraded in status. The council then voted to remove reference to the RUB from the Regional Policy Statement.
The decision effectively left Waiheke without a rural-urban boundary – even though the island’s district plan was not covered by the unitary plan – until Straits Protection Society launched court action.
Under the negotiated settlement, the council agrees that its decision was beyond the scope of submissions on the unitary plan.
Mr Walden says: “No one on Waiheke or anywhere in New Zealand submitted for the RUB to be removed on Waiheke and no one had the opportunity to have a say, apart from us as a community taking this to the High Court.”
Mr Walden praised lawyers Rob Enright and Andrew Simpson for heavily discounting their fees, while adding that the community contributed $35,000 through fundraising to fight the case.
The unitary plan hearings panel agreed to abide by the settlement.
• Geoff Cumming