25 October 2007

Local authority decision-making, community views, and Stadium Aotearoa

An article of mine has just been published in the New Zealand Law Journal:

Dean Knight, "Local authority decision-making, community views, and Stadium Aotearoa" [2007] NZLJ 354

Public participation in local authority decision-making has undergone somewhat of a renaissance, with the 2002 reform of local government legislation placing greater emphasis on "grass-roots" decision-making. There now seems to be greater understanding of the importance of community views to the decisions made by local authorities. And the range of participation processes employed by local authorities has grown: from traditional submission processes, to mechanisms such as public referenda, focus groups, and the like.

This change of culture brings with it greater frustration from the community when it feels shut out of decisions. A failure to consult may also present a new and more direct mechanism to attack a decision of the local authority. An example is last year's (ultimately aborted) proposal to construct a national sports stadium on Auckland's waterfront. The decisions – and the process by which the decisions were made – led to vociferous debate and polarised the city. The decisions also led to the one of the first direct challenges to a decision of a local authority under the decision-making processes and principles under the Local Government Act 2002 (LG Act 2002).

In this article, I describe and discuss the salient decision-making and consultation obligations that apply to decisions of local authorities and use the recent stadium selection decision to illustrate how they work. The purpose of the discussion is two-fold: first, to identify and navigate the complex decision-making framework for local authorities imposed in the recent reforms, and, secondly, to make some observations about the special circumstances which arose in the stadium selection decisions.


Much of the article is based on previous analysis on this blog:

Stadium Aotearoa: the injunction > Stadium Aotearoa: the long-term council community ... > Stadium Aotearoa - letter to Minister and the Mayo... > Stadium Aotearoa

As usual, feedback and comment welcomed.

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Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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