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Councillors bow out as commissioners take over

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, April 23 NZPA - While the dismissal of elected members of Canterbury Regional Council, Ecan, ended in emotion and tears yesterday, the Government's choice of replacement commissioners was applauded by Irrigation NZ.

The national body, which represents all irrigation interests in a unified voice throughout New Zealand, said the balance of academic, commercial business and political acumen in the appointees was encouraging, with a good mix of Canterbury-based people from a wide cross-section of the region representing a broad range of stakeholders.

"We are very pleased to see the good mix of people and wide stakeholder representation, it gives confidence that the challenges facing Canterbury's water management are in good hands going forward and the Government is to be congratulated in that respect," Irrigation NZ chairman Graeme Sutton said.

Federated Farmers Mid-Canterbury president, Michael Morrow, said the panel represented "an impressive brains trust" which would leave Canterbury in a much stronger position.

The council was dismissed by the Government after a series of complaints and issues about water management in Canterbury and held its final meeting in Christchurch today.

A coffin bearing the words "RIP Regional Democracy" brought a sombre note to the meeting.

The coffin was surrounded by seated councillors and placards held by supporters, protesting the council's mass sacking.

In their valedictory speeches, outgoing councillors almost unanimously agreed that regional democracy had been dealt a body blow and debated the term "dysfunctional", saying that the council had merely been made up of hard working personnel of varying attitudes and thoughts.

"We say farewell to a true Cantabrian (CRC) -- we say farewell to a local, democratically elected body," chairman of seven months Alec Neill said.

But Cabinet ministers Rodney Hide and Nick Smith wasted no time in introducing the newly appointed "repair" commissioners to take their place.

"With the (dismissed) councillors making their valedictory speeches today, it was important to fill that vacuum as quickly as possible, for the community of Canterbury to know who the commissioners were who would fill that role," Environment Minister Smith said.

The commission will be chaired by the Government "fix-it" specialist Dame Margaret Bazley with former Labour minister David Caygill as deputy. Other commissioners are North Canterbury vineyard owner David Bedford, Pro-Chancellor of Lincoln University Donald Couch, South Canterbury dairy farmer Tom Lambie, former Environmental Court judge Professor Peter Skelton, and Chancellor of Canterbury University Rex Williams.

"The Government has selected experienced and capable commissioners with first class public service, governance, judicial and business skills," Dr Smith said.

"It is strategically important to New Zealand and, in our view and those of the stakeholders, water management in Canterbury has not been well done."

The commissioners were also required to improve relations with Canterbury's 10 territorial councils, Dr Smith said. The previous council had been brought down largely on the complaints of Canterbury's various mayors in the district.

"The number one priority for the Government is that the commission deliver for Canterbury a resource management plan for water," Dr Smith said. "We view it as a scandal that, 19 years after the passage of the Resource Management Act, Canterbury, the region with more water issues than all the other regions combined, is the only region without a water plan."

In releasing the terms of reference for the incoming commission, Dr Smith said the commissioners would formally start their role on May 1 and be required to report quarterly to the Ministers of Environment and Local Government on their progress.

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