Espin obtains consent for digital billboard in Wairau Valley near SH1

Thu Feb. 10th 2022

Consent was granted despite opposition and negative recommendations.

Simon Berry and Tamsin Gorman led a multi-disciplinary team to obtain consent for Espin Holdings NZ Limited to establish a digital billboard in the Wairau Valley on Auckland’s North Shore. The site is not far from State Highway 1.

The consent was granted in the face of opposition from Waka Kotahi and negative recommendations from Auckland Council and Auckland Transport (AT).

The application was publicly notified by Auckland Council due to concerns about traffic safety as a result of potential driver distraction. Only two opposing submissions were received, including one from Waka Kotahi which was described in the submissions of counsel for Espin as “somewhat hysterical”. However, Waka Kotahi did not attend the hearing. Given Waka Kotahi’s non-attendance, the Hearing Panel determined that “no weight” should be accorded to the Waka Kotahi submission.

In relation to the issue routinely raised by Auckland Council and AT that the billboard would pose a traffic safety hazard as a result of driver distraction, Brett Harries’ evidence was that the assertions made by Council / AT witnesses were based on perception and assumption rather than fact and there is no proven causal link between digital billboards (as they are operated in New Zealand) and driver distraction.

The Panel also accepted Espin’s submission that this application could be distinguished from that considered by the Environment Court in Prime Property Group Limited v Wellington City Council [2021] NZEnvC 169, in which resource consent for a digital billboard was declined.  That case could be distinguished from the proposal for a number of reasons, particularly the difference in speed limits and crash records.

Simon Berry said:

"It is disappointing that Auckland Council and AT officers continue to trot out information that has been rejected again and again in the light of objective evidence. I consider that it is irresponsible for Council and AT officers to continue to repeat the same old garbage about driver distraction when they must know that it is simply unfounded and incorrect.

We were impressed by the acuity of the Panel’s questioning at the hearing and the quality of the decision and are pleased that good sense prevailed in the end.”

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