Impartiality of hazard lines panel challenged

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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The impartiality of an expert panel reviewing contentious coastal flooding hazard lines on the Kapiti Coast has been challenged.

Kapiti Coast District Council staff have conceded they knew about a possible conflict of interest when they appointed members of the panel.

James Carley, who was appointed chairman of the panel, had co-authored a research paper with Roger Shand, the man who wrote the report on which the hazard lines were based.

Council staff were aware of the possible conflict of interest in October last year. But they did not tell councillors, the mayor, the chief executive or the ratepayer group contesting Dr Shand's report until last week. Councillor K Gurunathan said a key precondition was that those appointed to the panel had to be independent of Dr Shand.

"Councillors now have information that this has been breached . . . unless councillors have clear legal advice there has been no conflict of interest, no predetermination or bias, councillors cannot put ourselves in a position that would trigger a judicial review and cost ratepayers," he said.

Coastal Ratepayers United, which won a hard-fought battle to have Dr Shand's report reviewed, said it had relied on the integrity of the council vetting process when it agreed to Mr Carley's appointment.

"That trust is misplaced," chairman Christopher Ruthe said yesterday.

Council strategy and planning general manager Stephen McArthur conceded the council became aware of a potential conflict of interest related to Mr Carley in October.

"The mayor, councillors and chief executive were not informed of the potential conflict of interest and only learnt it had arisen in the past week. Staff accept they should have made the mayor, councillors, chief executive and CRU aware."

Mr Carley, in a statement of impartiality, listed his previous professional and social interactions with Dr Shand, including co-authoring a paper on shoreline response models to sea level changes last year.

He said he could not recollect having direct contact with Dr Shand throughout the report drafting process, and had no input into Dr Shand's report on the Kapiti coastline.

As a result of that report, about 1800 beachfront properties had Dr Shand's hazard lines placed on the Lim reports, drastically affecting the value of their properties.

Council staff accepted Mr Carley's assurance that he believed he was impartial, and the matter went no further, Mr McArthur said.

The council said yesterday it had received legal advice that "the administrative law principles of bias do not strictly apply to Mr Carley".

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The panel's report is due to be published tomorrow.

- The Dominion Post

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