Up to three ‘cultural impact ambassadors’ are set to be hired by the Auckland Council to smooth communication between resource consent applicants and Maori.
But there are fears the new system will prove even more costly to ‘‘mum and dad’’ property owners wanting to get minor work done at home.
The council receives around 30 applications a week from people across the region whose properties are considered to be of potential cultural significance.
Some applicants are having to liaise with up to 15 different Maori tribes and sub tribes in a bid to get approval to go ahead with a range of projects from minor household additions to developments of a more major scale.
The use of facilitators is expected to ease the process in more complex scenarios at a cost of around $100,000 a year to ratepayers.
But not everyone is convinced it’s a foolproof way forward.
The council has identified more than 3500 sites of potential cultural significance across the region.
More than 160 are on Auckland’s North Shore where councillor John Watson is among critics of the new system.
He says the new facilitators will be nothing more than "glorified go-betweens" who will simply pass on assessment bills from Maori to applicants.
At least one Maori sub tribe, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, has moved quickly to dispel fears and its trust board deputy chairman Ngarimu Blair says consultation on minor works will not attract costs.
But he says major developments could be viewed differently and will be assessed on a "case-by-case basis."
Local tribes should be treated as an area’s experts and should charge accordingly as any other consultant would, he says.
Blair isn’t convinced about the effectiveness of facilitators.
"Providing advice to applicants on who best to consult potentially complicates the matter further as council has historically struggled in this space even with experienced staff," he says.
He says the existing system needs to be streamlined in order to be effective.
Significant sites need to be more clearly defined, the number of tribes to be involved reduced and consultation costs, where relevant, agreed to, he says.
The council maintains its stance, saying applicants need help finding the right experts.
The performance of the facilitation process will be reviewed in the new financial year, a spokesperson says.
- North Shore Times