The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (‘PAUP’) Independent Hearings Panel (‘the Panel’) has recently released its provisional schedule to 28 February 2015. The schedule is a demanding one, which reflects the Panel’s requirement to make its recommendations to Council by 22 July 2016.
The schedule sets out a series of pre-hearing meetings, expert conferencing, mediation and hearings of a range of topics. Following procedural submissions to the Panel and a pre-hearing meeting on 1 August, the Panel has advised that it intends to complete hearings on RPS issues in advance of hearings on the remainder of the PAUP, and ideally by February 2015. The Panel has not yet made a decision about whether to release its recommendations (or some of their recommendations) on the RPS in advance of hearings on the remainder of the PAUP. This is likely to have significant implications for submitters, particularly where making submissions on higher level policies and objectives within the PAUP.
Hearings on zoning, specific sites and precincts are not likely to start until the Panel has heard the substance of the PAUP text, anticipated to be later in 2015.
In terms of hearing procedures, the Panel has the ability to determine its own process. In its ‘Hearing Procedures’ document, the Panel has confirmed that:
- A hearing must have a minimum of three panel members in attendance (as there are 8 members of the Panel, this means that more than one hearing can be held at any time).
- The Panel will direct the pre-circulation of all submitter evidence, expert evidence and Council evidence not later than five working days prior to a hearing.
- “In most cases”, submissions and evidence will be read in advance, and may be taken as read.
- Submitters will be given limited time to present, and witnesses need to be prepared to present a 10 minute “concise summary” of their evidence.
- The Panel may permit cross-examination or questioning of a witness in certain limited circumstances, and where parties give notice to the Panel of a request to cross-examine the witness.
The Panel is, in our view, faced with a very demanding schedule in order to have any chance of issuing its recommendations on the PAUP by the mid-2016 statutory deadline. It has therefore taken steps to streamline hearings. While it seems that the Panel is operating ‘full steam ahead’, due to the sheer weight of information and volume of submissions, we question whether there is a risk of the ‘process locomotive’ taking control and running off the rails. We have confidence that the Panel, and its very experienced Chairperson, Judge Kirkpatrick, will do everything possible to ensure that this does not occur. However, there is no doubt the Panel faces a very challenging, and unenviable, task.
 There is ability for the Panel or Auckland Council to seek an extension from the Minister for the Environment of the deadline by up to one year (section 147 Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010).
 Refer the Panel’s pre-hearing meeting report dated 8 August 2014.
 Version 1.0 dated 28 May 2014, which may be updated from time to time. The Hearing Procedures document should be read together with Procedural Minutes issued by the Panel.