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Seats still warm as commissioners introduced

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Christchurch, April 22 NZPA - With the seats of the sacked Ecan councillors still warm after their final meeting in Christchurch today, cabinet ministers Rodney Hide and Nick Smith were introducing the newly appointed "repair" commissioners to take their place.

A series of complaints and issues around water management in Canterbury had brought about the wholesale Canterbury regional council dismissal by the Cabinet, Local Government Minister Hide said.

The haste in reappointing a seven-person Environment Canterbury Commission was because the Government didn't want to leave a vacuum of governance for an important organisation of more than 500 people.

"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.

"There was a high level of public speculation (about the commissioners) and the announcement had to be made as quickly as possible."

The commission will be chaired by 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.

Dr Smith said the Cabinet chose the six commissioners to join previously announced chairwoman, Dame Margaret, at the beginning of this week.

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

"We have ensured a balance of agricultural, environmental and electricity expertise to match the challenges facing Environment Canterbury.

"The decisions the Government have made has been very focused on the issue of fresh water management," 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.

Both Dr Smith and Mr Hide rebuffed suggestions from the previous council members that their dismissal had been undemocratic, saying the decision had been made by elected members of Cabinet and on the advice of democratically appointed mayors within the region.

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