District plan mediation decision causes friction

A heated discussion preceded a decision this week to delegate Dunedin city councillor David Benson-Pope the authority to approve mediation resolving appeals of the city’s second-generation district plan.

Cr Benson-Pope was delegated due to his role as the chairman of the council’s planning and environment committee.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the full council, councillors sniped at and sparred with each other and questioned council staff for nearly an hour over the merits of the recommendation.

Crs Jim O’Malley, Rachel Elder and Andrew Whiley questioned whether there was enough information in a one-page report provided by staff to have an informed debate.

Crs Doug Hall, Carmen Houlahan, Jules Radich, Lee Vandervis and Whiley questioned whether the appointment was appropriate given the potential for claims of a conflict of interest because Cr Benson-Pope had been on the panel hearing submissions on the district plan.

But Cr Mike Lord said he was "bemused" by the concerns of his colleagues.

"I don’t think Cr Benson-Pope needs me to defend his integrity, but I think the tone of some of the questions is really quite offensive to me," he said.

Crs Steve Walker and Marie Laufiso echoed his concerns and Cr Christine Garey said Cr Benson-Pope had the "knowledge, skills and integrity" for the job.

Asked by Cr Radich which council staff could be appropriate for the role, council acting chief executive Sandy Graham said she would not name staff in a public meeting.

The role had traditionally been filled by an elected official, and the authority could be delegated when the need arose.

An independent commissioner was an option but would be costly, she said.

After the meeting, Ms Graham said staff had reviewed the report and acknowledged the background information should have stated the role the delegation holder played in the mediation process.

Ms Graham said she had circulated the city council solicitor’s opinion on the matter of a potential conflict of interest to councillors by email before the meeting.

Council legal representative Michael Garbett said in his opinion, the legal team had "no concerns from a legal point of view that he can properly fulfil this role, even though he was on the hearing panel hearing submissions on the 2GP".

Mediations on plan appeals are to be held in August and September.

Cr Benson-Pope did not take part in the discussion or vote and was affirmed in the role in an 8-5 vote.

Cr Sophie Barker was absent.




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