New regional water authority for Canterbury?


The independent review into Environment Canterbury  recommends that the government sets up a new Canterbury Regional Water Authority (CRWA) to assume all water related responsibilities in the Canterbury Region.

ECan has failed miserably in its responsibilities for water management in the region where it is of most importance. The report says:

The issue of freshwater management (both ground and surface water) is the single most significant issue facing the Canterbury Region.  The Review Group acknowledges that the scale of the issues being addressed in terms of water availability and quality in the Canterbury Region and the scale and nature of competing demands for that resource is significantly greater than that confronted by other regional councils throughout New Zealand. They are correspondingly of much greater significance to the nation’s well-being.

There are four major river catchments in the region but the Waitaki is the only one with an allocation plan and that was imposed on Ecan by central government when Project Aqua showed up the council’s shortcomings.

The creation of an entirely new specialist entity is, we believe, the only way that the Government can be certain that it has an institution capable of dealing with the complexities involved in resolving freshwater issues in the Canterbury Region. The Authority would assume responsibility for all of the functions of Environment Canterbury related to the management of freshwater in the Region.  This includes:

  • Addressing the complexities involved in balancing the competing interests for the relevant resources.
  • Producing relevant plans for the allocation and management of water resources and water quality within a timeframe to be specified in the legislation.
  • Allocation, monitoring and enforcement of consents relating to water.
  • Addressing the water quality issues that are currently the responsibility of Environment Canterbury.

The Review Group also recommends that the council be replaced by a temporary Commission.

Both recommendations are wise.

All the territorial authorities in the Canterbury Region have been complaining about ECan for years, so too have many of the groups and individuals who’ve had to deal with them.

There has been a welcome improvement since Alec Neil took over as chair last year but the Review Group thinks the problems are too deep-seated to be solved by the existing council which is still divided.

The government has yet to consider the recommendations but I wonder if a complete reorganisation of local authorities in the region might result.

The city and district councils have been looking at a unitary authority. A supercity based round Christchurch and a provincial council further south, perhaps?

Neill new Ecan chair


Alec Neil has replaced Sir Kerry Burke as chair of Environment Canterbury.

Councillors voted 8-6 to oust Burke in a no-confidence motion.  

Alec Neill has been voted in as the new chairman, 8-6 with Jo Kane retained as deputy.

Neill was a lawyer in Oamaru until he entered parliament as MP for Waitaki in 1990. He lost the seat on election night 1993 but was returned after special votes were counted – putting National back in government by one seat.

When Waitaki became part of the bigger Otago seat under MMP, Neill was beaten in the candidate selection by Gavan Herlihy who wont the new seat in 1996. However Neill was the next one on the list and returned to parliament later in the term. I’m hazy on the details, but it must have been when a sitting list member resigned. (I’m sure David Farrar will know).

By then he had moved to Christchurch and set up his own law firm. He  continued in law after he left parliament and won a seat on Ecan in 2003.

An urban-rural divide which Burke was unable to bridge was one of Ecan’s problems. I hope that Neill,  a former MP for the southern part of Ecan’s area and a Christchurch resident, will be more successful.

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.

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