Minister berates council

LOIS CAIRNS AND ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2013

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The honeymoon period is over for the Government and the new Christchurch City Council with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee threatening to seize control of city housing rules.

The threat was made by an angry Brownlee yesterday after a bungle by the new council forced it to delay giving its approval to proposed new housing rules in the draft Land Use Recovery Plan (Lurp).

The new rules would significantly increase the amount of housing that can be squeezed in the city's existing residential boundaries.

Brownlee was expecting councillors to endorse the new rules at a special meeting yesterday but Mayor Lianne Dalziel had to abort the meeting halfway through because the report being debated had been signed off by the wrong council official.

Because councillors were being asked to revoke a decision of the previous council, the report needed to be signed off by either Dalziel or the acting chief executive in order to comply with the Local Government Act.

Brownlee said he found it hard to believe the sign-off issue was an "oversight, given the importance of this". Even if it was, the council could have still debated the Lurp yesterday, he said.

"I think there is no guarantee that the council are going to approve it. They curtailed the debate. If the only issue is the name on the paper then I think they could have had that debate [yesterday]," he said.

Brownlee is meeting the council again today. When asked how he thought the bungle would affect the relationship between the Government and the new council, he said: "We will find out [then]."

Dalziel apologised for the error and promised the council would consider the matter again at its meeting next week, but that has not satisfied Brownlee, who said he was "deeply disappointed" by the council's failure to endorse the rule changes.

"People say seven days in the scheme of things isn't too bad. But look at the time of year. I am concerned that there is going to be a bit of an effort to push this back. The longer we wait the more severe our housing issues will become," he said.

"Even a modest uptake of the proposals in the Land Use Recovery Plan would deliver many thousands of extra residential properties into Christchurch city's catchment.

"Out of respect for the incoming council, and recognising tensions with the old council and complaints over a perceived lack of democracy in the city, I waited and engaged on the Lurp in good faith. I've bent over backwards, mindful of court instruction, to carry out my statutory responsibility while recognising the role of the democratically elected council.

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"At the mayor's request ... I will attempt one more meeting with the Christchurch City Council [today]. If that doesn't lead to some resolution then I'm left with no alternative but to approve the Land Use Recovery Plan in the form stakeholders believe is best for addressing urgently required residential and commercial development across the region."

A spokeswoman for Dalziel said last night the mistake made by the council was genuine and the mayor hoped to be able to resolve the matter with the minister today.

Council housing committee chairman Glenn Livingstone said he was "puzzled" by Brownlee's reaction. It was a genuine mistake and the Lurp would be back on the council's agenda next week.

"The fact is that we have to comply with the legislation. That's what the community expects of us."

Despite Brownlee's salvo, Livingstone said he was hopeful of maintaining the good relationship that had existed between the council and the Government since last month's elections.

The housing rule changes Brownlee wants the council to sign off would make it easier to split big houses into flats and would also allow people within the Living 1 and 2 zones to build two houses on vacant house sites as a permitted activity for the next five years. Granny flats would also be allowed to be used as stand-alone homes.

The new rules also include provision for a new planning mechanism that would allow the development of multiple adjacent sites for high density housing in some Living 1, 2 and 3 zones. It would mean that sites between 1500 square metres and 10,000 sqm could be developed to a density of between one unit per 330 sqm and one unit per 150 sqm, provided they were buffered from adjacent projects and met urban design standards.

- The Press

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