In June 2021, the Planning Committee of Auckland Council, acting on the recommendation of Auckland’s Regional Transport Committee (RTC), adopted the Regional Land Transport Plan 2021 (RLTP). Under the RLTP, Auckland’s transport emissions are expected to increase 6% between 2016 and 2031, and vehicle kilometers traveled per capita are not expected to decrease. All Aboard Aotearoa (AAA), an NGO, brought an action against the three local government bodies which had proposed, recommended, and adopted the RLTP.
First, AAA alleged that the decision of the RTC to recommend the RLTP was unlawful because the Committee relied on incorrect advice; that the RLTP was inconsistent with New Zealand’s Land Transport Management Act 2003 (which requires a safe land transport system in the public interest); and that it was inconsistent with New Zealand’s national Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2021 (GPS), which contains a strategic priority of transforming to a low carbon transport system. Secondly, AAA challenged the decision of Auckland Council’s Planning Committee to approve the RLTP on the basis that the Council had relied on flawed advice; had failed to consider the requirements of New Zealand’s Local Government Act 2002 (LGA), which requires consideration of the interests of future communities; and had failed to identify that the RLTP was inconsistent with Auckland Council’s Climate Emergency Declaration. Third, AAA alleged that the Board of Auckland Transport – the council-controlled organization which had proposed the RLTP – had acted unlawfully because it was not properly informed; and had acted contrary to its statutory purpose (which required it to “contribute to an effective, efficient, and safe Auckland land transport system in the public interest”).
In July 2022, the Court rejected the challenges against the decisions of all three agencies. First, it found that the RTC had not acted contrary to the purposes of the LTMA. This was because the LTMA made no explicit reference to social, economic, cultural or environmental wellbeing, and that the statute had actually been amended to remove such factors. Next, the Court found that the RTC had not acted inconsistently with the GPS. Although climate change was a strategic priority reflected in the GPS, it did not have primacy over other grounds, such as safety, better travel options, and improving freight connections. The RTC was entitled to balance climate considerations against other factors. The Court also rejected procedural challenges related to the RTC’s decision to recommend the RLTP for adoption. The Court also dismissed claims that the Auckland Council Planning Committee had acted unlawfully. It found that the Planning Committee’s role in the adoption of the RLTP was a limited non-statutory process to which its obligations und er the LGA did not apply. Finally, the Court dismissed the claim against the Board of Auckland Transport on the same basis as it had dismissed the claim against the RTC.
Whether the adoption of a Regional Land Transport Plan by local government which increased carbon emissions was unlawful on the basis of procedural defects and inconsistency with national statutes.