Ecan says ‘e can’t

Environment Canterbury  chair Kerry Burke lost a vote of no confidence by eight votes to six  at this week’s council meeting.

The rebellion was led by South Canterbury councillor Mark Oldfield.

The loss has set up a showdown vote on September 24 when councillors will consider removing Sir Kerry as chairman and, if that is resolved, they will have to elect a new chairman.

It’s been a long time coming.

Problems with his leadership have been fomenting for years, aggravated by a rural urban divide which often resulted in seven councillors on each side of a debate.

The result of the 2008 local body elections led to an impasse when an even number of councillors supported the two candidates for chair – Sir Kerry and Alec Neil. That was settled when Mackenzie councillor Bronwen Murray supported Sir Kerry, even though she had said she would not when seeking election.

Problems have not been confined to those round the council table. Ecan is deeply unpopular with people rural people, especially those south of Christchurch where it’s popularly known as ECan’t.

Relationships between Ecan and  district councils in the region are fraught. They have deteriorated so far that the district councils are investigating the possibility of ceding from ECan and forming a unitary authority.

The Waitaki District is divided between the Otago Regional Council and Ecan. The Waitaki District Council and residents regularly complain that it is much more difficult to deal with Ecan than the ORC.

Complaints about  Ecan gained credence when it was found to be the worst performing of all councils in the Ministry for the Environment’s biennial Resource Management Act survey.

Problems run deep among councillors, staff and the people they are supposed to serve. A new chair may help relationships but it will be difficult to solve the underlying problem of a council split by political affiliations and dominated by Christchurch, a large urban area which appears to have no understanding of, or sympathy for, the needs of the rural hinterland.

The Press backgrounded some of the issues here.

5 Responses to Ecan says ‘e can’t

  1. Red Rosa says:

    Peter Lukes’ ChCh Press article is excellent.

    Part of the trouble is simply money. The rural areas have been essentially subsidised by ChCh, with its huge rating base, ever since Ecan was formed.

    A steady move to ‘user-pays’ is hitting farmers and the outlying areas in the pocket. The numbers are not large, maybe a hundred dollars extra in rates for bigger farms, but noticeable all the same.

    Viewed from the outside, the real solution is ‘One Council for Canterbury’ which would include Ecan, ChCh City, and all the rest. Still less than 600k population, a fraction of the Auckland SuperCity, it would sweep up some tiny district councils like McKenzie 3k population, Waimate 5k, and Hurunui 10k, which are real anachronisms these days. Even the rest- Waimak, Ashburton etc, at 40-50k population each apart from ChCh City, are too small.

    This ‘Canterbury SuperCouncil’ would still be a fraction of the new Auckland, but it would give Cantabrians more clout in Wellington and a real sense of identity to the historic region, from the Waitaki to the Clarence.

    It would also keep rates down for the rural areas! Ironically, while the possible urban/rural split – ChCh City vs the rest – would deliver the minimal environmental rules and greater water extraction farmers demand, cutting out ChCh City’s massive rating base would put their costs up.

    Will be an interesting debate.

  2. homepaddock says:

    The size of rates bills is part of the problem. But even more than that is the difficulties, and expense, ratepayers hav3e in dealing with ECan and the pressure from urban people which constrains normal farming activity, not on scientific environmental grounds but emotional ones.

  3. Paul Corrigan says:

    The Timaru Herald has an editorial this morning saying Sir Kerry Burke should go.
    It’s more than 20 years since I lived in Canterbury. It seemed to me that in the 11 years I lived there that while parochialism and factionalism were rife (and in some ways there’s nothing wrong with that), what united them was their general loathing of bureaucrats and politicians in Wellington.
    To the West, Coasters have been treated shamefully for more than 30 years by politicians who pandered to conservationists than listened to them.

  4. Red Rosa says:

    The ‘user-pays’ argument runs like this.

    In any given year, 80% of ECan’s (or any council’s) regulatory work involves 20% of the ratepayers. Those figures are a guess, but you get the picture.

    Most of ECan’s ratepayers roll along without any annual monitoring – the average urban household or lifestyler, even many farms. And if they do no development requiring consents either, they cost ECan very little. But their general rates, based on CV, are the biggest part of ECan’s income.

    These people quite justifiably don’t like coughing up for the regulatory costs involved in development approvals (eg. Pegasus)or regular monitoring (eg. water takes). Here the staff salary costs really come home to roost.

    Farmers are hit, because it costs serious money to maintain staff to regulate and monitor many of them, and cash for this is not now coming out of general rates. Activities like irrigation, pig farming, diverting streams etc need to be supervised, for obvious reasons, and these “users” are now expected to “pay”. Ouch.

    But many farms (eg. those without irrigation or a rabbit problem) don’t require this, so they are not facing serious rates increases or big annual monitoring bills.

    This is one issue fuelling the current ECan wrangle, maybe the main one. It has to be faced, no matter which authority has to deal with it. Sooner or later the bills have to be paid.

    The scene looks set for a healthy debate over local government in the South Island, now Auckland is moving on the long overdue amalgamation.

    Four territorial local authorities (TLAs) for the South Island is quite a rational option. Canterbury to begin with, the real biggie at 600k population. The West Coast has four TLAs for 50k people – one would be plenty. Nelson/Marlborough (150k?) could get by with one, as could Otago/Southland (250k?).

    Easy, innit?

  5. Paul Corrigan says:

    In that case, Rosa, might as well go back to the old provinces. I can just imagine the Nelson-Marlburians loving that. Some of my ancestors so loathed the Nelson Provincial Government back in the 1860s (God knows why) that they successfully agitated for Marlborough to split from Nelson and set up on its own.
    The changes in 1989, while they might have been ‘efficient’, removed ‘local’ representation from people. The town I grew up in in the 60s complains that everything flows to and from the main centre 26 miles away.

    My birthplace still complain about being run from Blenheim.

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