ECan offers compromise


Environment Canterbury has offered the government a compromise between the status quo and the recommendations of the independent review panel on the regional council.

ECan is offering the government what its chair Alec Neill describes as an olive branch.

They’re suggesting the government appoint a commissioner-advisor to manage the region’s water.

They also recommend an external advisory group be set up to assist the commissioner and councillors.

“We’ve come up with what we believe ticks all the boxes for the Government to carry out their direction as to water but allows for the community to retain elected representation.”

The intention was for ECan elections to still go ahead this year, Neill said.

The advisory group would comprise two members of Local Government New Zealand’s regional affairs committee, one Ngai Tahu representative, one member of the Canterbury Mayoral forum, Neill and the commissioner-adviser.

The review panel’s recommendation to sack the council and appoint a commissioner would have requried legislation.

ECan’s offer would mean there is no need for that, provide an opportunity for improved water management in the region and still allow council elections in October.

This isn’t as radical as the review panel’s recommendations but it would retain democratic elections and enable action to improve the region’s water management much sooner than any changes which required legislation.

The need for improved management of Canterbury’s water is urgent and if ECan’s plan was accepted work could start immediately.

Second thougts on ECan report


My initial reaction to the report from the independent review panel into Environment Canterbury was to support the recommendation that the council be replaced by an independent commissioner.

However, I didn’t realise that while the government can appoint a commissioner if requested to do so by a regional council, it would take a change of law for that to happen without the council’s request.

That makes me a bit more cautious about the idea.

Another reason for caution is that the district councils which were so unhappy with ECan before are much happier with the improvements since Alec Neill became chair. That gives me more confidence that ECan may be able to come up to scratch without the need for a commissioner.

But whether or not a commissioner is appointed the need for action from ECan is urgent.

The last water consent for water takes from the Waitaki River was North Otago Irrigation Company’s in 2002.

There are now around 40 applications to take water languishing in the system. That includes applications to renew existing consents among which are farmers with businesses built on irrigation who are in limbo until their consents are renewed.

This sort of delay in processing consents is unacceptable.

Whether or not a commissioner is appointed I have concerns that the size and population make-up of ECan is part of the problem.

The population base is in Christchurch and while people there ought to be concerned about their air and water quality I can understand that they might not even think about the Waitaki River about three hours south of the city. 

Yet that river is vitally important for the country because it generates about half our hydro power. The river and its lakes also provide recreational opportunities for tourists, boaties and fishers.

It’s also important for farming because it provides water for around 70,000 of irrigation.

But many of us who live just a few kilometres away from the river are in the Otago Regional Council’s area not ECan’s and so have little or no influence on policies affecting it and us.

Ecan under review


Being caught between two regional councils has little to recommend it.

Two sets of rules and two sets of people to deal with adds to costs, delays and frustrations.

With some of its catchment coming under the Otago Regional Council and the rest under Environment Canterbury, the Waitaki District Council, and its residents, are able to compare the two authorities.

Time after time, they have more problems with ECan than with the ORC.

Difficulty dealing with ECan is not peculiar to the WDC. Other local authorities and ratepayers have also had problems and 10 mayors wrote to government with their criticisms.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide have ordered two inquiries into ECan. One under the Resource Management Act which will look at its resource consent performance. The other under the Local Government Act will look at governance and policy functions.

Newly elected chair Alec Neill has responded sensibly  to this:

“Since I was elected, I have made it very clear that the council will work constructively with both central government and local councils,” he said.

Asked by the Otago Daily Times if he agreed with the ministers’ comment about “poor performance”, Mr Neill said he wanted answers rather than deny the council may have problems.

He was not going to get into “slagging matches” with the ministers.

The Government had information regarding ECan’s performance with resource consents.

In the 2007-08 financial year it was ranked the worst of 84 local authorities by processing only 29% of consents on time.

Since then, it had made changes which had dramatically im-proved its performance.

“I’m not in denial. There have been areas which have been unsatisfactory. If there remain areas which are unsatisfactory, I’m anxious for those to be addressed,” he said.

Regional Councils have wide ranging powers. Any problems they have internally or in dealings with other local authorities and the public add to costs and frustrations.

Mr Neill has met all mayors in the region since his election and there is more confidence that relationships between ECan and other councils will improve.

Regional Councils are supposed to be putting their energies into ensuring soil, air and water are protected, not wasting their time and our money on politics as has been happening. These reviews will help get Ecan’s focus back where it ought to be.

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