Changes to PDP independent review announced by Chief Executive
To ensure the community can have absolute confidence in the independence and integrity of a recently-commissioned independent review of the Proposed District Plan (PDP), Chief Executive Pat Dougherty has announced some important changes to the process.
Mr Dougherty announced today that an independent legal expert will be appointed to supplement the independent planning expert recently engaged by Council to conduct the review.
Mr Dougherty said Council had responded to requests from Coastal Ratepayers United (CRU) and rural submitters to involve someone in the review with this expertise. "CRU and the rural submitters have provided some names of appropriate individuals for us to consider and an appointment is expected in the next week or so."
Further, on reviewing the independence of the planning expert, the Chief Executive has decided to replace Leigh Auton, who has only done a day's background reading to date. Mr Auton chairs the Recovery Solutions Board which is an Auckland-based mental health provider. Stephen McArthur, Council's recently-appointed Group Manager Strategy and Partnerships is also a Trustee and Deputy Chair of the Board.
This association was declared as part of selection process for Leigh Auton but Mr Dougherty says he did not consider it material at that time.
"It was Leigh Auton's planning expertise and independence from the PDP development process that were foremost in my mind. However, in reviewing this decision as part of considering the legal expert appointment, I have decided, in the interests of public confidence and legal safety, to seek a replacement expert planning reviewer.
"I do this reluctantly because of Leigh's impeccable credentials but, if we are to truly build bridges with the community to move forward on the PDP, our processes must not only be absolutely transparent, but seen to be administratively, ethically and legally robust."
Mr Auton had also been contacted as a referee (at the Council's request) by the recruitment company involved in Mr McArthur's appointment to the GM role at Council. Mr Dougherty says, on reflection, he believes this could be perceived as Leigh Auton not being 100% independent, given that Mr McArthur has management accountability for the District Plan.
"My decision in no way questions the skills, expertise and integrity of either Mr Auton or Mr McArthur, as I hold both in high regard. I simply need to ensure our review process is sound and the Council is able to make robust decisions for all parties on the way forward for the PDP".
A replacement for Mr Auton will be appointed shortly, after discussions with CRU and appropriate community representatives. Council will be writing to submitters once the experts are confirmed.
Council commissioned the review of the PDP after public concerns over aspects of the Plan were raised in formal submissions and during pre-hearing meetings with submitters. The reviewer's brief will be to determine whether the PDP should continue to be progressed through the hearings process, be significantly changed or be withdrawn in order to address submitter concerns. Formal hearings due to start at the end of this year have been delayed until the results of the review are known early next year.