The drama in our lives and in the life of Environment Canterbury goes on and one is never quite sure what will be revealed as the chapters in the story unfold.
Plan Change 1 – Do public submissions count?
They certainly should because Ecan’s proposals are an attempt to define and dictate when and where growth will take place in the great Christchurch area until 2041 and this has enormous implications for us all.
In the first instance Environment Canterbury wished to appoint a hearings panel with panel members being chosen from within their own elected Councillor ranks (sounds a lot like the judge, the jury and the executioner scenario doesn’t it?).
The Commissioners and decisions
Legal action by some major players forced Ecan to back down and so it was that an independent hearings panel comprising a lawyer, a surveyor/planner and a landscape architect from the Northern Isles were appointed.
Independent Hearings Commissioners were appointed by Environment Canterbury to hear, report and put forward decisions in respect of the public submissions made by so many people and organisations.
The general consensus is that the Hearings Panel did a fairly good job in getting to grips with the ideals and vision of the Ecan plan and then assessing and weighing up that vast volume of public submissions that were made.
The accepted protocol is that a hearings panel, having heard all of the evidence is then the only party in a position to make decisions on the submissions they have heard and that the Regional or Local Authority is really obliged to adopt those decisions as their own.
The Commission have made their decisions, Environment Canterbury have formally adopted these and so the next stage in the drama is for persons adversely affected and/or aggrieved by any decision to appeal that decision and take their case to the Environment Court.
Ecan’s support of the Commissioners Decision?
It is of interest to note that Plan Change 1 was a document produced by the Urban Design Strategy (UDS) partners – a partnership comprising the Christchurch City Council, the Selwyn District Council and the Waimakariri District Council with Ecan as the convenor and coordinator of the UDS partnership.
It then appeared that whilst Ecan was accepting and notifying the Hearing Panel decisions it was not necessarily going to support and/or defend them. The situation then arises where the Council UDS partners can appeal the Ecan decisions without Ecan defending them – the question that has arisen is “is Ecan involved in supporting/encouraging appeals against its own decisions??”
Environment Court seeking clarity
Judge Jackson in the Environment Court has required Ecan and the Councils to provide evidence, documentation and minutes of specific meetings that were held between the four parties so as to define exactly what their joint objectives are and the rationale attached to such views.
Judge Jackson is demanding a high degree of clarity so that parties appealing decisions know exactly where they stand and exactly what Ecan’s views are.
There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge and it looks expensive and somewhat discoloured.