Christchurch district plan change 'serious injustice' for residents
A dispute has erupted between Christchurch City Council bosses and elected representatives over claims the district plan was deliberately altered, potentially leaving homeowners in flood-prone areas millions of dollars out of pocket.
City councillor David East has called for an independent inquiry into claims staff tampered with the plan and erased a clause after it had been signed off.
Community leaders said the apparent sabotage amounted to "red-zoning by stealth", suggesting people in New Brighton, Southshore and Redcliffs may have been left millions of dollars out of pocket.
Pete Watkinson told Stuff his plans to build a new home in Southshore had been scuppered by the planning process, leaving his family on the verge of moving into a caravan.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, East said the alleged tampering had "denied residents their legal rights" and caused "huge emotional stress and community upheaval".
The Christchurch City Council fought the inclusion of the clause, which made it easier for people to develop homes and land in flood-prone areas, during the process of the plan's ratification two years ago.
Despite an independent hearings panel ordering it to be included, it was left out of the final version.
The omission – which was known about – was previously thought to be an oversight.
But local politicians claim council staff admitted during a meeting last month the clause was deliberately deleted from the plan's final draft because they did not support its inclusion.
East said the omission had caused "undue and unnecessary financial stress" for residents in his ward, seriously affecting their health.
"The number of personal agendas, prejudices and dogged adherence to planning rules that have prevailed in this area has frankly been quite outrageous," he said of the council.
Acting council chief executive Brendan Anstiss said was "confident" the panel's decisions had been applied correctly. He was "disappointed" East had not raised the issue formally and the allegations were "without basis".
Asked why he had not brought the matter to council, East said he had been repeatedly "rebutted, deferred or … not even acknowledged" when previously raising issues in Southshore.
In a letter to East last month, then-chairman Sir John Hansen, who did not oversee this specific matter and declined to speak with Stuff, said the panel's decision would have left "nobody in any doubt" that what the council was proposing should have been amended.
Hansen said the clause's absence was never raised during discussions on corrections to the policy or in later opportunities to appeal against sections of the legislation.
"If this matter had been brought to our attention, we would certainly have added the policy back into the plan as a minor correction."
Kim Money and Tim Sintes, leaders of the Coastal-Burwood Community Board, said council staff openly admitted at a meeting last month that they had deleted the clause from the plan's final draft because they "did not support its inclusion".
In a joint letter read to media on Monday the pair said they believed there had been a "significant misrepresentation" by council staff of the true views of the hearings panel.
"This is of grave concern to us as there would appear to be a serious injustice to our residents."
Speaking afterwards, Sintes said the rumours of a building ban had given the suburbs an "unfair stigma", putting strain on families, relationships and communities.
Linwood-Central-Heathcote community board member Darrell Latham said the council's alleged actions amounted to "red-zoning by stealth" and called for greater "integrity, honesty and transparency".
East said he had written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta advising them of the situation, and called for Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods to have the removed policy reinstated, a move backed by the community board leaders and Hansen.
Ardern's office said it was not an issue for the prime minister "at this stage". Mahuta's representatives said she wasn't yet aware of the letter.
Anstiss said East, Money and Sintes had not raised the issue before, despite meeting with council staff and Mayor Lianne Dalziel, and that it was "inappropriate" for the councillor to have made public accusations "without providing any supporting evidence".
LIFE IN LIMBO
Pete Watkinson and Janice Huddy are living a life in limbo after plans to build a new dream home in Christchurch's Southshore have been scuppered.
The pair bought a section on Rockinghorse Rd in November last year. They had just sold their former home following a seven year battle with the Earthquake Commission.
They planned to build their dream home on the section, but 11 months later the property is still bare and the couple and their nine-year-old son are living with separate family members.
He said council staff told him he could not get a resource consent and could therefore not build a house. That was in March 2018.
"It's just real hard. We've lost a lot of money not being able to build."
The family is now considering moving into a caravan on the site, just so they can be together again.
Watkinson said could not sell the land because nobody would want it if they were unable to build on it.
He wanted the council to let him build, but said it was probably too late now because they would struggle to afford it.
- Additional reporting by Tina Law