Chris Darby To The Rescue! Oh, Hang On A Minute..

Posted by on Jul 25, 2011 | 19 Comments

Things get a bit awkward at the RDOC committee

Things get a bit awkward at the RDOC committee

The Auckland council made an important and positive decision concerning Devonport last week. Yet our three most senior, publicly-elected representatives did not support it. In fact, two of them voted against it.

The three councillors in question are Ann Hartley, George Wood and Chris Darby. Hartley and Wood represent Devonport and the rest of the Shore on the Council’s governing body, while Chris Darby is the Chair of our local Board.

So if you could name three people who you might think would support a motion to withdraw an application to the Environment Court on behalf of the Council for legal costs to be awarded against two Devonport community groups, they should be near, if not at the top of your list, right?

Wrong.

What on earth is going on?  Here’s a bit of background.

As even the less-than-alert reader will be aware, two community groups – The Masonic Friendly Society and Devonport Heritage – have been locked in a prolonged and fierce battle with the (previous) Council and Redback Development (the owners of the Masonic’s property investment vehicle) over the future of the Masonic Tavern.

The two groups – MFSDH for short – have lost every round of the battle, but in the process have inflicted a significant amount of legal fees on their two opponents. The Council was in the process of deciding what action it would take regarding claiming these costs back from MFSDH (and incidentally, that other hotbed of subversive activism, the Historic Places Trust.)

Enter into the fray Sandra Coney; heritage heroine and member of the Council’s Regional Development Operations Committee (RDOC). Coney learns that the Council’s lawyers and officials have passed this decision on costs to two councillors who hold the positions of Chair and Deputy Chair of the Hearings Committee – Noelene Raffles and Penny Webster.

Concerned that these two councillors should be given the responsibility to decide on an issue which could have profound implications for how the Council is perceived by communities, community groups, voters and ratepayers, Coney submits a motion to RDOC , requesting that the Committee (which has the authority to do so) request the Council withdraws its costs application. Coney is supported on introducing the motion by Mike Lee.

Coney’s position is simple. How would it look if the new Council – having paraded itself as a champion of the people and a defender of Auckland’s heritage – then embarked on a battle to comprehensively shaft same? For the less than alert reader who has nevertheless persevered this far, it would Not Look Good. The motion was eventually carried 10 votes to 8, so as far as the Council’s cost claim is concerned, MFSDH are home and hosed.

With me so far? Good. Because it is from here on in that it gets murky.

For who should turn up among the naysayers, but our three most senior North Shore councillors – Hartley, Wood and Darby.

Darby, as a local Board member was unable to vote, but turned up at the committee meeting and was given an opportunity to air his views immediately before the vote by the committee Chair, Ann Hartley. Darby was clearly agin the motion and also indulged in some mildly disturbing misrepresentation of the position of the Masonic Friendly Society’s Claudia Page, confirmed by The Speculator’s conversations with both parties.

Darby’s appearance was followed by quite a kerfuffle, as it was unclear to some committee members as to whether he had been representing the view of the Devonport-Takapuna local board (DTLB) – a fairly critical piece of information – or his own. Fortunately DTLB member Jan O’Connor was present, and shouted from the gallery that he was not representing the DTLB. Jan can be a cantankerous character, but like the Shakespearian fool, she will often be on-hand to disclose an important insight at an opportune time. Case in point.

By this time Mike Lee is fairly furious that Darby has been allowed to get up and say what he said, and particularly when he was able to say it, and other committee members are similarly non-plussed. Hartley is flustered. The Speculator pauses the video (the committee debate was videoed; you can watch it here) and scratches his head. What are Hartley and Darby (HARDAR) up to?

Well, The Speculator has had some time on the phone to pretty much all the parties involved.

As far as HARDAR are concerned, it is simply a matter of following the correct process. This is, according to them, to let the Environment Court make its decision, and if it awards costs against MFSDH, the Council can then decide whether to proceed. And, they argue, history demonstrates that it was extremely rare for the local councils to go after community groups for costs.

Which, as Sandra Coney points out, has nothing to do with what the new Auckland council might do or not do. Fair point.

But HARDAR go on, muttering darkly about “sending the right signals”, “ensuring community groups act responsibly” and “ensuring the ongoing case in the Environment Court is not adversely affected.” Push them further on these themes, and they melt away into the night.

Here is The Speculator’s theory.

Hartley is the engineer of all this. Darby, being the junior partner but an ambitious man, is willing to do her bidding. As he sees it, he can’t lose, and neither (probably) can MFSDH. Either way, MFSDH were likely to get off the hook, so he’ll look good. Meanwhile, Hartley will be sending a message (or so she thinks) to MFSDH that they shouldn’t go taking a hard line with the Council (MFSDH refused to enter into mediation over the Masonic, and their all or nothing approach apparently irked Hartley). Wood voted the way he would have anyway.

Sandra Coney and Mike Lee – two individuals known for playing a straight bat while also being more than happy to get on the front foot and apply willow to leather when necessary – decided to intervene for what they believed was the good of the community groups and the reputation of the council. Len Brown was also on their side.

Ultimately  – no harm was done.

However, I think Devonport as a community has learnt something about the Chairman of its local board, something about Ann Hartley and something about the relationship between the two.

What the community has learnt isn’t necessarily all bad.

Firstly, Darby is a talented politician with big plans for his future in the big pond that is the Auckland Council. He’s struck an allegiance with Hartley who will mentor him to the top, which is where she is also planning on heading. They’re movers and shakers in the new council and will Get Things Done for their constituencies to ensure their trajectories continue. The Devonport Wharf is a case in point. Darby pulled this off by being well networked with Team Brown.

Secondly, they are not the Citizens and Ratepayers, Christians for Summary Execution or any of those other ludicrous parties that we seem to have so many of in Auckland.

However, on the evidence of this episode, on the way up, Hartley may well leave a fair bit of carnage behind her. And I think we all now have a reasonable  idea of who will be dutifully picking up the pieces behind her.

The note of caution is thus. If there is to be carnage (and The Speculator is firmly of the belief that you can’t make an omelette without breaking etc etc), we should not naively assume the resulting pieces of egg shell will consist solely of People Who Deserved It (PWDIR, pronounced “Poor Dear”). Rather, what we have learnt from this episode is that they could just include Opponents Of HARDAR (OOH).

Moreover, some of OOH may even be On Our Side (OOS). In their desire to get to the top, HARDAR may cease being able to discern OOH from OOS. This is generally considered to be the crossover point to the Dark Side. At which point of course, HARDAR transmogrify into Darth HARDAR.

Which leads us to the last point. A fair measure of anyone’s character is how they treat those they perceive to be their enemies, particularly in a political context, where “enemies” are really just People Who Are Getting In My Way.

HARDAR’s ends may ultimately be beneficial to Devonport, but we need to keep an eye on the means they employ to achieve them. Therein lies the true measure of integrity.

For the record, the councillors who voted against the motion are as follows;

Arthur Anae, Penny Webster, Noelene Raffills, Des Morrison, Michael Goudie, Cameron Brewer, Ann Hartley, George Wood.

19 comments

  1. claudia page says:

    Mmm perhaps I confused Jan for Ann, never the less one offer of consultation is pathetic. The information I have been given is that it was a resolution of the previous , defunct council to pursue the societies and Historic Places for costs. Ratepayers may be interested to know that the council spent more defending this than th applicants temselves. Also the developers themselves appealed the council decision. So the application was headed for court regardless.

  2. Joel Jonah says:

    $300,000?!?! that’s insane. So is this sort of expense common place in legal battles with Council? Otherwise I think I might reconsider paying my rates!

  3. Jan O'Connor says:

    Joel,I was the Deputy Chairperson of the NSCC Regulatory Committee for 3 years until October last year.

    I had not heard of this application for costs until I read the Auckland Council agenda the night before the meeting.

    Any further information regarding the timelines could be obtained from the CEO of Auckland Council doug.mckay@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

  4. Joel Jonah says:

    It’s always entertaining reading your posts ed. But Can I ask what the actual costs are? In my view Councillors Darby, Hartley and Wood are all very reasonable people and with a legal background these sorts of cases can cost Council BIG bucks, which of course is all ratepayers money. Also, has Ms. O’Connor checked what she has posted, because considering the timelines of this case, I can not see how the application for cost would not have been a North Shore City Council application. If someone could clarify that….I’d appreciate it.

    Joel: The amounts in question were fairly substantial; $300k, of which the Council was looking to reclaim around $115k. The application was a North Shore City Council application which was carried over to the new council. – Ed

  5. Jan O'Connor says:

    Sorry, Claudia, as I have had nothing whatsoever to do with the Masonic application could please explain what you mean by this? “I would like to refute Jan O’Connor’s claim that the Masonic Friendly Society refused mediation.”

    And to quote Gladys “Two councillors from his (Andrew Williams ?I assume) tenure as Mayor signed off to take action to recover costs from the community groups” In the past three years of NSCC cost recovery from Community Groups was NEVER an issue. Obviously you heard Clr Hartley mistakenly make that claim on the video. I asked Chair Darby when he spoke to correct that misinformation when he spoke. He declined. The two Auckland Council Councillors who decided to take the action against the Groups for costs were Clrs Webster & Rafills. Clr Hartley’s e-mail address is: anne.hartley@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz I am sure she will tell you that she was mistaken.

  6. Andrew Williams says:

    In response to Gladys, my council inherited the whole issue of business land/buildings in heritage areas. As others have also said on this blog,it was a major flaw in the NSCC District Plan which we inherited and had been allowed to continue for many many years. My council set about amending the District Plan so situations like the Masonic would have greater controls in the future. Unfortunately the Masonic application had to be treated in accordance with the existing District Plan and other existing consenting procedures. I am very proud to have stood up for Heritage issues and had the changes to the District Plan moved along as quickly as possible to provide greater safeguards for the future.

  7. Gladys says:

    It’s a bit mischievious of Andrew Williams to suggest he inherited “the Masonic problem” from the G Wood council. It was the council he lead that recieved and processed tha application to redevelop the tavern. It was Mr Williams council that didn’t listen to its own officers when they raised serous questions over the application. MrWilliams council declined todelay the hearing when more important information came to light. Two councillors from his tenure as Mayor signed off to take action to recover costs from the community groups. I have no doubt he is sometimes in support of heritage, but not in this case.

  8. Claudia Page says:

    I would like to refute Jan O’Connor’s claim that the Masonic Friendly Society refused mediation. The facts are we were offered only one mediation meeting which unfortunately was scheduled when both our planning and legal advisors were away. This meeting was to be held at the offices of the councils solicitors , Simpson Grierson. As we felt we would not have adequate advice for the meeting ( nand our lawyer had only just been engaged) we reluctantly declined the invitation and asked for council to arrange an alternative date. This was never offered by NSCC or the developer himself.d

  9. Andrew Williams says:

    Dear Jimmy, just to clarify as you have misinterpreted my comments. Jan O’Connor was indeed supportive of the Heritage Plan change, which was led by Clrs Tony Holman and Grant Gillon. However some bureaucrats (officers) were not supportive of this initiative. It provides much stricter controls on any future development of business zoned buildings which are in Heritage areas, but regrettably was too late for the Masonic situation.

  10. Jimmy says:

    Dear Spec. I’d be interested to know why Jan O’Connor was NOT supportive of Andrew Williams’ plan change which, according to Williams, would have provided better control over the development of the Masonic Tavern. Perhaps you can solicit a response from her?

  11. Al says:

    “Hey, do you that photographer was from the Spec ?” … “yup” … OMG

  12. Pistol says:

    All power to the devonport groups struggling to hold the line on heritage. And what a disgrace that local politicians plotted against them.
    Methinks oh speculator that you have been far to generous to our representatives. Judging by her performance in the video Ms Hartley has already arrived in a position with higher demands than her skill set will accomplish – Mr Darby may fancy himself in her or Wood’s chair next time around, but he’ll need a little less arrogance and a little more transparency before he regains peoples’ trust after this episode.

  13. Viv Keohane says:

    Great news on the outcome. Well done Sandra and Mike.

  14. Andrew Williams says:

    My council inherited the unfortunate Masonic Hotel problem from the previous George Wood’s regime. This case and also the planned apartment development at 83 Hineloa Street, Birkenhead highlighted the issue of business zone land in heritage residential areas. We immediately set about putting through a plan change to control such developments. It has taken some time to get the plan change developed, consulted on and approved.Some bureaucrats were not supportive of this initiative led by the likes of Councillors Tony Holman, Grant Gillon and Jan O’Connor. It was finally enacted last week at the Auckland Council committee meeting, ironically chaired by Anne Hartley. Unfortunately these new provisions in the District Plan were too late for the Masonic situation, but will help save other similar locations in Devonport, Birkenhead and Northcote.

  15. JL says:

    I agree with Wills. It’s sad when an area’s own representatives use an important issue to play their political games.
    Whether one agrees with the heritage group’s efforts to protect a historic building or not, they shouldn’t be ruined for it…..especially as council refused to accept their own in-house expert’s recommendations in this case & imported consultants from all around the country until they got the opinions they wanted…..No community group should have to pay for this sort of profligacy.

  16. Wills says:

    I am reminded of the old Native American adage “Beware he who speaks with forked tongue.”

  17. Gordon says:

    I believe that the whole issue over the Masonic Tavern can be directly attributed to a shoddy District Plan from the North Shore City Council. If the council had performed properly the issue would never have had cause to reach the Environment Court. The NSCC should be liable for all costs.

  18. Claudia Page says:

    The result of this, however it came about, is a win for all communities of Auckland. The video is compelling viewing. The losers are members of the Devonport and the wider public who believe that a better outcome was and is possible for the Masonic. A long awaited plan change to better recognise and protect heritage in business zonesand clarify appropriate development was ironically approved for notification by the same meeting that voted narrowlyto withdraw from this bullying court action. In the documents supporting the plan change the following is said ” As it stands before the commencement ot the redevelopment, the fomer Masonic Tavern is considered to make a strong. contribution to the historic character of this part ofthe Devonport waterfront and is therefore assigned to group 1….
    In the event the develpment does not take place, it would be desirable to include district plan provisions which recognise and protect the contribution athat the existing buildings on the Masonic Taveren site make to the historic character of the area”

  19. Margot McRae says:

    Devonport Heritage is extremely disappointed in our local representatives’ actions on this matter last week.
    It seems Councillors Hartley and Chris Darby preferred back-room dealings to an up-front democratic approach favoured by Councilors Coney and Lee.
    Sandra Coney knew she had to move quickly as the Environment Court could make its decision any time.
    The back-room dealers preferred to wait and plot a move that might make them look good.
    It’s a sad day for Devonport when we have become a pawn in politicians’ games.
    The good news is that a majority of the Auckland Council values heritage and is prepared to act on it.
    It was a fantastic decision which has enormous implications for every single community group in Auckland.
    It acknowledges the value of the work of groups such as Devonport Heritage and MFS and the important role we play in the protection of our communities.

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