By Bruce Morris
The legal barriers to the redevelopment of Chamberlain Park have been pushed aside and the moves to turn the 80-year-old public course into a park with room for more than golf may now be difficult to stop.
A High Court judgment today rejected the judicial review arguments of a pro-golf group and found in favour of the Albert Eden Local Board, which is behind the redevelopment plan to cut the course from 18 holes to nine, and Auckland Council.
Peter Haynes, chair of the local board, said he was heartened by the decision and gratified that the judge found a multi-layered consultation process had been properly followed.
The board went “above and beyond the letter of the law” and he was looking forward to getting the redevelopment moving.
But Geoff Senescall, leader of the Save Chamberlain Park group that brought the legal action, was not talking about throwing in the towel.
”It is very disappointing, but it is not the end of the road,” he said.
An appeal is possible and the 2019 local body elections may be a further obstacle.
However, with community voices split, it is difficult to see the proposal as an all-important electoral issue.
The court case – opened in November last year and adjourned for further argument on February 8 – forced the local board and council to put the already-funded first stage of the plan on hold.
Now, once the winter is over, that stage can proceed – and work could be over by the end of next autumn, assuming there are no further legal challenges or hiccups with the resource consent application.
As Justice Simon Moore was perhaps putting the finishing touches to his judgment, the council was this month dealing with the funding of general local board projects under its long term plan.
That process included the key second stage to reshape the whole of Chamberlain Park and the big project remains in the funding pool, for confirmation at a meeting at the end of this month.
If the funding is finally confirmed, the bulk of the development may be over in six years or so. That will leave Auckland with just one 18-hole public golf course, at Takapuna.
Stage one of the development needs council resource consent before earthworks can begin and involves, at the western edge of the course:
- Restoring and cleaning up Waititiko /Meola Creek and associated wetland areas;
- A facelift for Rawalpindi Reserve and the creation of a new public space, buffered from the course with new native trees, with community facilities like a playground and barbecue area;
- Re-shaping four holes at the western edge of Chamberlain Park to allow for the improvements.
A start date for stage two, assuming funding is settled, is uncertain. But work could begin around 2022, finishing perhaps in 2024 or 2025. It involves:
- A redesigned nine-hole golf course, driving range and practice area;
- Two news sport fields;
- Public pathways;
- Possibly a pool complex to replace the existing Mt Albert Aquatic Centre in the grounds of Mt Albert Grammar.
Justice Moore’s judgment, delivered 18 weeks after the hearing ended, was a bitter blow to the Save Chamberlain Park group and a strong endorsement of the processes followed by Auckland Council and the local board.
The golfing group, which raised around $80,000 to mount the judicial review, based its case on four failings, claiming:
- The council unlawfully transferred decision-making responsibility for the park to the local board;
- The Albert-Eden local board should have consulted with other local boards;
- The local board was pre-determined against maintaining the status quo. In other words, it had made up its mind and nothing was going to change it;
- The local board failed to discharge its consultation obligations.
But Justice Moore declared in his judgment: “There were no errors of law present in any of the impugned decisions.”
The council complied with the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 in allocating decision-making responsibility to the board, he found, and it was not incumbent on Albert-Eden to consult with other local boards “given the approach it took to consultation with stakeholders generally”.
The judge decided Albert-Eden did not close its mind to the possibility of maintaining the status quo until its decision in principle on April 22, 2015, at which point it could legitimately make a decision.
“While it had a predisposition for change, it was legitimate,” he said in the judgment. “The evidence did not support a finding that it had closed its mind.”
Finally, he found the local board discharged its decision-making properly.
On the question of whether consultation was appropriate, Justice Moore said: “The interest groups represented by Save CP were told of the proposed review and were provided with multiple opportunities to express their views. This they did both orally and in writing.
“The approach taken by the AELB was neither perfunctory or a mere formality. It engaged in a robust process of consultation where multiple interest groups participated in an open and at times hotly contested debate concerning the best use of Chamberlain Park.
“Moreover, and crucially, consultation must not be equated with negotiation.
“The process embarked on was not one which had as its object arriving at a solution which represented some form of consensus.
“There was no requirement for the AELB to accept the views and preferences or even reach a compromise with those who sought the maintenance of the status quo.”
Mr Senescall said it was always going to be tough fighting the council with all its resources. The group would now discuss the judgment in detail with its lawyers before deciding on the possibility of an appeal.
“But legalities aside, this is a significant blow for the working classes and others who rely on Chamberlain Park as a low-cost and accessible place to play golf,” he said. “It also is a blow for future generations of Aucklanders.
“… Subject to anything further that we may be able to do, the ball is now in the governing body’s court to decide whether it wants to fund this $22m-plus redevelopment project that will significantly impact the future of golf at Chamberlain.”
Dr Haynes acknowledged that some people would not be happy with the court decision and said the board knew the course was valued by the golfers who used it.
“But Auckland is changing rapidly and growing, and we are trying to provide for the future for the benefit of everyone.”