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Report Slams ECan Over Water Management

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 19 NZPA - A review team has recommended commissioners be appointed urgently to replace the Environment Canterbury (ECan) council and turn around what it considers woeful performance in terms of administering water management responsibilities and resource consent processes.

Government-ordered reviews were initiated last year for both the Far North District Council and Ecan after concerns were raised about their inability to adequately process resources consent processes.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide said today the Far North District Council appeared to have addressed its problems and turned its performance around, but ECan had dire problems with its water management systems.

The Government got involved after 10 regional mayors throughout Canterbury expressed concerns over Ecan.

Dr Smith said the problems which surfaced during the review were much greater than expected.

Review team members Doug Martin and former National Party MP Wyatt Creech said today that problems within ECan were historic and deep-seated and the gap between its mandate to deliver on complex water management issues and its abilities to do so were huge.

"The issues in Canterbury are much more serious than the public realises," Mr Creech said.

Mr Martin said there appeared to be culture problems within ECan, including a "we know best" attitude, but problems went beyond that.

He said the relationship between ECan and territorial authorities in the region was "not good".

The review recommended setting up an entirely new authority to manage water issues.

ECan chairman Alec Neill said the authority would work constructively with the Government following the release of the review report, but was disappointed at aspects of it.

The review team had chosen not to highlight good performance in areas such as clean air, passenger transport and regional transportation and urban planning, he said.

"In the last year, we have significantly improved both process and performance, with 90 percent of consents now being processed on time."

Mr Neill said it needed to be noted that both parties had to take some of the blame for tensions between ECan and territorial authorities.

The report was for consideration only, and if implemented the recommendations would have a significant impact on the council and its activities, he said. "Some of the options under consideration will require new legislation before they can be implemented."

Local Government NZ said there needed to be a "pragmatic, workable solution" for ECan which didn't compromise local democracy.

President Lawrence Yule said ECan had struggled with some of the most complex issues regional councils faced.

"There is a need for swift, drastic action but there must be a firm commitment to elections in 2013 or earlier. Local democracy must never ever be compromised."

Mr Yule noted ECan had taken steps to address downfalls, but they were "too little, too late".

Mr Hide and Dr Smith are considering the report's recommendations and will meet Ecan, local mayors, local iwi Ngai Tahu and other relevant stakeholders next week to discuss the issues raised before making a decision on how to tackle the problem.

Federated Farmers mid-Canterbury president, Michael Morrow, said the report reflected the poor long-term leadership of the council and not Mr Neill, who had been recently elected.

"If you want to know how not to run a regional council, then this report is as critical as you can get," he said.

"I imagine the spotlight will now turn to other regional councils given this report could be applied to a number."

Mr Morrow said Federated Farmers was interested in the future, and had been encouraged by the council's recent actions.

"If a new council, after November, doesn't pull itself out of a death spiral then yes, appoint a commission," he said.

"Going for a commission right now could actually stifle the tentative improvements we are seeing."

Labour's water spokesman, Brendon Burns, 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.

He said the report correctly identified the pressure Ecan had been under to manage the "goldrush of water" that had occurred in the past decade.

"What is not fully acknowledged is that Ecan has begun to come to grips with those demands after years of giving away huge volumes of water without proper consideration and allowing major deteriorating in surface water quality," he said.

"The Ecan-led Canterbury Water Management Strategy is a template for potential win-win environmental and economic outcomes."

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