The Upper Clutha Environmental Society has accused the Queenstown Lakes District Council of resorting to “kangaroo courts” to write the new district plan.

Society spokesman Julian Haworth said he attended a council-organised workshop hearing on December 9 to talk through detailed wording in the district plan before Environment Court Judge John Hassan and commissioners Kathryn Edmonds and James Baines.

Mr Haworth described the workshop experience as “intimidating” and “browbeating”and is urging the process be abandoned in favour of continuing with more formal court processes.

The News forwarded Mr Haworth’s claims to the QLDC and invited a response.

Engagement and communications team leader Rebecca Pitts said the proceedings “remain ongoing with further opportunities for parties to provide input. As such, council won’t be making any further public comment at this stage.”

The main wording concerns were in relation to the assessment matters in Chapter 21 of the proposed district plan.

These relate to all rural landscapes across the district, such as Outstanding Natural Features (ONF), Outstanding Natural Landscape (ONL) and Rural Character Landscape (RCL), Mr Haworth said.

“At the workshop hearing, the court and the council, with the help of lawyers from pro-development parties, effectively tried to intimidate and browbeat the society into accepting wording in the proposed district plan that is contrary to the wording that was arrived at in 2018 after thousands of public submissions and two years of public hearings.

“Due process was not followed; no sworn evidence was given.

“The society is surprised and disturbed that the council has accepted advice from its legal representatives that supports the district plan being written by what is effectively a kangaroo court. The society understands that the council wishes to expedite completion of the district plan (the society supports this too) but the process followed was external to the court process.

“The society’s position is that it must be confident that outcomes under this informal process are equivalent to those that would be reached in the formal court process. The society is not confident that this is the case,” Mr Haworth said.

Mr Haworth said the December workshop hearing went ahead despite the society raising its concerns in a memorandum on November 23.

That memorandum pointed out a “significant gulf” between council and society proposals.

“The society considers this gulf to be so wide that there is very little prospect of an agreed version of the assessment matters resulting from the workshop . the above situation would suggest that this is likely to be a pointless exercise.

“It is the society’s strong preference that the workshop is abandoned; the society respectfully suggests that this matter be set down for a court hearing,” the society said in its memorandum to the court.

Mr Haworth said despite the society’s clear preference for a court hearing, where it could present submissions, sworn evidence and cross-examine witnesses, the court ordered the workshop hearing proceed.