It’s business as usual and perhaps ground breaking, as Waikato District Council continues to hold its Proposed Waikato District Plan hearings during New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown.
Council is trialling a different way to hold the Proposed District Plan hearings which will enable submitters and their experts to continue to contribute to the Proposed District Plan process while staying safe at home.
Council successfully held the hearings virtually for the Country Living Zone and Hampton Downs Motorsport and Recreation Zone on April 7 and 9. Submitters were sent a link to the Zoom meeting and were able to present just like they normally would at a conventional hearing. The details of the hearing are put up on Council’s website which enables anyone to attend and observe the hearing. Council also records the hearings and these recordings are available on Council’s YouTube channel.
Speaking at the start of the hearings, panel chair Phil Mitchell said he felt that holding the hearings in this format was “breaking new ground”.
“I believe this is the first ever resource management act hearing to be held via Zoom. We’re paving positive new ground.”
In making the decision to move the hearings online, Dr Mitchell said the country was facing challenging and unprecedented times.
“While under Alert Level 4 when we are all confined to our homes, it is therefore no longer possible, or indeed appropriate, to continue with the current hearings format.”
He said the hearings panel considered alternative options to allow for the hearing process to continue remotely. They asked submitters for feedback on their proposal to use technology rather than place the hearings on hold.
Based on the feedback received, the panel then decided to proceed with the hearings in this remote format.
“We consider this is a way of promoting a positive contribution to the interests of submitters/further submitters, their representatives and Council, as well as minimising work disruptions by promoting working at home during what is a difficult period,” Dr Mitchell said.
Waikato District Council Resource Management Policy Team Leader Will Gauntlett says it was important the hearings continue during the lockdown period.
“While many of our staff are supporting the Civil Defence work Council is doing at the moment, we felt it was critical to continue with the Proposed Waikato District Plan at this time. Using this new technology might seem daunting for some, but it is much like being in the same room as the commissioners and submitters may even feel a little more comfortable speaking from the comfort of their own homes.
“We also hope that by continuing with the hearings during this period, we can demonstrate Council’s willingness do our bit to keep the economy going and promote growth in the Waikato district.
“We also want to get a District Plan finalised and operative for our community so they have certainty and direction going into what could be a different and difficult time for New Zealand,” Mr Gauntlett says.
Both Council and the Hearings Panel appreciate that not everyone will feel comfortable attending hearings remotely, and are enabling people to still give evidence in person once the Covid-19 restrictions allow. The Commissioners have said all existing timeframes for the circulation of section 42A reports, evidence, rebuttal evidence, legal submissions and evidence summaries are unchanged through the lockdown period.
Photo: The next few hearings for the Proposed Waikato District Plan will use virtual technology.
For more information please contact:
Senior Communications & Engagement Advisor
Waikato District Council
027 706 5776