A high-powered legal opinion received by the Hamilton City Council has shown staff should NOT have issued a 'Certificate of Compliance' (resource consent) for the Eastgate development on the corner of Clyde and Grey Sts in Hamilton East.
The opinion - by Paul Cavanagh QC - also states that a 'consent notice' preventing access by the Eastgate developers onto the busy Grey St should not have been removed by Council staff.
Both actions by Council planning staff - supported by well-paid lawyers - were strongly opposed by the Hamilton East Community Trust, who were at a total financial disadvantage throughout the battle, with both the millionaire applicant, and the Council opposing them at every stage. HECT's 'expert' witnesses in the end refused to attend the Environment Court on behalf of HECT, when HECT ran out of cash to pay their appearance costs, thuse severely damaging the community's case. Both Council and the Ministry of the Environment had earlier refused to fund any of the community's legal costs.
The opinion is a complete vindication of the community's stand, as represented by the HECT.
This whole case is a sad and unfortunate indictment of the way in which a number of planning consent issues have been handled in Council (and probably not just in Hamilton). Developers - with every advantage of funds, experience, access to decision-makers, and familiarity with the legal/planning fraternity - are often on a different (and vastly superior) playing field to the community.
Councils and their staff must change the way they look at planning consent issues when there is a strongly-expressed community viewpoint - they may not be required to take into account the community's interests, but if they are doing their jobs they damn well ought to, in my humble opinion!
Recent concerns expressed by the Templeview community over the proposed demolition of Church College buildings by the US-based Church hierarchy were another case in point. It was extremely difficult to get Council staff to agree to seriously consult with the local community over these plans.
The fact that two Hamilton City Councillors had to pay towards the legal costs of the HECT, just to ensure a genuinely independent legal opinion was accessed, is not good enough - I hope everyone has learnt a lesson from this.