Brownlee accused of misusing powers
Secret emails reveal Canterbury councils persuaded Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to use his "draconian" quake powers to help them get their preferred housing boundary for Christchurch, the High Court was told today.
The court is hearing a challenge by property developers, including Independent Fisheries, Clearwater Holdings, Richard Peebles and the Case family, to Brownlee's decision last year on where new homes should go.
The developers own land near the airport and in the Cranford basin that they want to put subdivisions on.
Lining up behind Brownlee in court are Christchurch International Airport, whose noise buffer is part of the land-use squabble, the Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn councils and Environment Canterbury.
The developers of the Highfield and Prestons subdivisions, including Ngai Tahu and supermarket owner Foodstuffs, have joined the case in support of Brownlee and the councils.
Brownlee will not appear in court but will give evidence in an affidavit.
Counsel for the challengers, Francis Cooke, QC, told Justice Chisholm that Brownlee had "been persuaded" to introduce a plan that would not only free up land for new housing after the quakes but would also help local councils control urban sprawl and create an airport noise buffer.
Cooke said Brownlee's special powers were legally "intended to be used for earthquake recovery only, not other purposes, not because they are a good idea, not because they are good for the Canterbury region".
He said the councils, after the February 2011 quake, "used the opportunity to lobby the minister to use his powers" to get through a housing boundary they had already tried unsuccessfully to introduce.
The minister's action had taken the housing decision out of the hands of the Environment Court.
The court was read emails from ECan to the Canterbury Earthqauke Recovery Authority marked strictly confidential.
The emails said Brownlee had agreed to approve the councils' original boundary choice, "amended to include references to the earthquakes".
Cooke said a deal was then struck, and at a meeting in September, Cera asked for the urban development strategy's preferred version of the housing boundary.
Brownlee's subsequent decision not only created new housing areas but ruled out others and created the noise buffer zone the airport wanted, making an exception only for Kaiapoi.
The developers' case alleges that Brownlee misused his powers and failed to consult democratically on what was in effect a long-term housing strategy, not just a quake recovery plan.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Christchurch becoming too expensive?Related story: Christchurch too expensive to visit