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Govt remains staunch over Ecan issue

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, June 14 NZPA - A thousands-strong water protest in Christchurch yesterday has not weakened the Government's stance over its decision to sort Environment Canterbury's (Ecan) management problems itself.

The Ecan council was sacked in March following a damning report over its performance in terms of dealing with pressing water management issues in the region. Legislation was rushed through Parliament in March to allow that to happen and rules around water conservation orders were also adjusted.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide were tasked with making the changes and the National Party has since copped criticism for destroying democracy in the region.

Prime Minister John Key said today his feeling was that the backlash over the issue was not as widespread as had been suggested.

He attended a forum in Christchurch last week, and while there were demonstrations and questions over Ecan and water management, there was no aggression, he said. One protestor was arrested after jumping on his ministerial car.

"Yes some people were protesting, but you have to take a step back and ask the question; why after 19 years wasn't there an operative water plan, and the answer is that council that was ranked 84th out of 84 in the 2009 local government report, had failed to put into place its operative plan and failed in its most basic responsibilities," Mr Key said.

"Now it's my view that we do need to -- through the work of the commissioners -- get an operative water plan, make progress on that issue and balance both our economic objectives and our environmental responsibilities, and as soon as we do that we can restore democracy there in Christchurch."

Dr Smith said protestors demanding a return to Ecan elections should give the commissioners the chance to address Canterbury's water problems.

He said the council had 19 years to address its issues and in the end the Government had little choice but to intervene.

"The Government shares many of the concerns of the protestors about unmanaged growth of dairying, problems with water quality and the drawn out debates over water storage. We just didn't have the confidence that a highly politicised and divided council would be able to get on top of these issues."

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