Court to test DCC's 'vested interest'

Allan Cubitt
Allan Cubitt
Claims the Dunedin City Council had a ''vested interest'' in granting consent for a new caravan park in Leith Valley will be tested by the Environment Court.

One of the neighbours opposed to the new facility, Woodhaugh St resident Rhonda Taylor, confirmed this week she had lodged an Environment Court appeal on the decision.

Her move came after the council's hearings committee granted consent earlier this month for the caravan park at at 51, 55 and 57 Woodhaugh St, Leith Valley.

The park would be owned and operated by the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association and cater for some of the association's 48,000 members, with a dumping station on site.

It would also require the realignment of the nearby intersection of Woodhaugh and Malvern Sts, at the association's expense, to ensure caravans up to 13m long could negotiate the corner.

However, court documents released to the Otago Daily Times this week showed Mrs Taylor and husband Mitch wanted council procedures behind the decision to be scrutinised.

She had claimed during the consent hearing the council had a ''vested interest'' in granting consent for the association's plans.

That was because the council owned the land and had a conditional deal to sell it to the association, on the condition consent for the association's caravan park was granted, she said at the time.

Her appeal came despite assurances of impartiality by independent commissioner Allan Cubitt, who replaced chairman Cr Colin Weatherall, and committee members Crs Andrew Noone and Teresa Stevenson during the hearing.

Mrs Taylor, in her appeal notice to the court, said the council had ''not followed the correct procedure'' and exerted ''too great an influence ... throughout this application process''.

''Since the DCC was the vendor of the site, we believe no councillors nor employees of, or at, the DCC should have played an influential part [in] the decision-making process.''

Submitters had not received prior notification of aspects of the proposal, including the realignment of the intersection, as required, she said.

The decision also lacked detail in places, including the exact location of the site entrance, how many campers could remain on site and for how long, she claimed.

She asked the court to review the decision, including whether ''improper procedure'' by the council needed to be corrected.

The caravan park plans had prompted concerns from other neighbours, but a decision by council staff to opt for limited notification meant only seven submissions were received.

Other neighbours were excluded from the process, including Leith Valley Touring Park owners Terry and Lyn McLaren, whose business is located just 30m away and who have a home overlooking the new park.

Council city property staff referred questions this week to council resource consents manager Alan Worthington, who could not comment in detail while an appeal process was under way.

However, he remained confident the process had been handled correctly, pointing to the appointment of Mr Cubitt as an independent commissioner to ensure impartiality.

There was no timetable to resolve the appeal, but the next step could be informal or formal mediation talks between the parties, he said.

''We are open to the idea of mediation, so someone will be talking to her in the future.''

The written decision, signed by Mr Cubitt, said the committee was satisfied ''suitable conditions'' would minimise disruption to the area's character, while the realignment of the intersection would solve road safety issues.

Mr Cubitt had told Mrs Taylor during the hearing her claims of vested interests were ''precisely why I am here''.

''I am here to ensure that there is impartiality.''

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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