The Environment Court this week predictably turned down an appeal by Hamilton East community representatives against Council approval for a retail building and carparks in the old convent site on the corner of Clyde and Grey Sts in Hamilton East.
The 'development' (to very loosely use the phrase) will cause traffic chaos on what is already the busiest intersection of the highly-congested route between the CBD and the University, and on the key Orbiter bus route for the whole city, not to mention putting up an ugly 2-storey square block, complete with asphalted carparks on a former historical site (I say former given that the developer bowled the trees and the iconic brick wall on the corner in the early hours of the morning, and was called a 'cowboy' by Council management for doing so).
The appeal predictably lost after not one of the professional witnesses the Hamilton East Community Trust lined up was willing to come to court to give evidence, because the Trust wasn't able to pay them in advance - they had already been paid $thousands for preparing written material which the Court then refused to allow to be discussed in court because the authors were not present.
For the record, both the Government's community legal aid fund and the Council refused to assist with the Trust's legal costs, even though the Trust was promoting Council's own strategies.
In the hearing, the developer's and Council's lawyers attempted to belittle the evidence of the two non-professional community witnesses to make sure nothing they had to say about community aspirations were taken account of - reading the 'judgement', this clearly worked. The judge and panel were not from the area, and clearly have no interest in whether Hamilton develops to the benefit of its residents or not!
The traffic impact reports prepared by both the developer's and Council's consultants were pathetic, to put it kindly, making zero acknowledgement of the Council's own transport strategy to REDUCE congestion in this busy precinct, where two schools and two existing shopping centres already contribute to the traffic chaos.
The whole case shows Hamilton City Council's planning processes in a very bad light - we have all the wonderful strategies in the world to promote transport access, safeguard heritage precincts and encourage good urban design, but follow archaic planning practices that move the city in completely the opposite direction.
STOP PRESS: The City Council CEO, Michael Redman, has decided HCC will NOT be pursuing costs against the Community Trust.