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Dame Margaret to head Ecan

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Dame Margaret Bazley
Dame Margaret Bazley

Wellington, March 30 NZPA - Canterbury's regional council is to be replaced by commissioners with highly respected senior civil servant Dame Margaret Bazley taking the helm.

Local government elections would be put off until commissioners had fixed problems, Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide said at a press conference.

Chairwoman Dame Margaret would be joined by four to six further commissioners to be appointed in the next few weeks.

In February a review team recommended commissioners be appointed urgently to replace the Environment Canterbury (ECan) council and turn around what it considered woeful performance in terms of administering water management responsibilities and resource consent processes.

The Government ordered the review last year.

The review found the relationship between ECan and territorial authorities in the region was "not good" and it recommended setting up an entirely new authority to manage water issues.

The Labour Party previously said Canterbury water management would be better served by enforcing tougher, new environmental requirements than by passing responsibility to a new tier of unelected local government.

In a statement Dr Smith and Mr Hide said the commissioners replacing the council would have additional powers under proposed special legislation to deal with water management problems.

"Canterbury is strategically important with it holding more than half of the country's irrigation water and hydro storage," Dr Smith said.

"Government leadership is needed to address Canterbury's lack of a proper allocation plan, increasing problems with water quality and the failure to progress opportunities for water storage."

Mr Hide said to give the commissioners time to deal with problems local government elections for the council would be put off.

"The proposed legislation provides for new elections when commissioners have completed their task but no later than the 2013 local government elections," Mr Hide said

"I am confident that by then Environment Canterbury will be ready to return to an elected council status."

Dr Smith said a water plan for Canterbury was a government priority.

"This is a task that has been needed since the passing of the Resource Management Act in 1991 but it is still years away. Thousands of consents are being processed in an ad hoc way without any proper framework. Powers will be given to commissioners to fast track the completion of the plan."

Commissioners would also be given powers to impose moratoria on water take consents and to make decisions on water conservation orders.

Dame Margaret would today meet Environment Canterbury senior executives.

The Environment Canterbury Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management Bill would be introduced and passed under urgency in Parliament this week. The bill makes temporary amendments to the Local Government and Resource Management Acts to empower the commission, with those powers expiring in October 2013.

Dr Smith said decisions about the review's recommendation for a new Canterbury Water Authority to replace Environment Canterbury had not been made.

"The Government wants to consider the conclusions of the Land and Water Forum due to report in July, the work on the Environmental Protection Authority, further advice from the commission and officials, and consultation with the Canterbury community before making permanent changes to the governance of the region's water."

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