11 Apr 2017

Tensions high at Canterbury Regional Council

7:47 am on 11 April 2017

A bitter dispute has erupted at the Canterbury Regional Council.

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Photo: RNZ

Elected councillors were sacked and replaced with commissioners only seven years ago because of claims they were so divided they could no longer make progress on new rules for how to manage water.

Now the chairperson of a council committee, Allen Lim, said similar divisions were re-emerging.

He has written a letter of complaint asking for councillors to be brought in to line.

It followed comments from an un-named councillor at a public meeting that water had been mismanaged in the region.

Lan Pham, the Peoples' Choice candidate

Lan Pham, the Peoples' Choice candidate. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

While he didn't name her, Mr Lim, clearly took aim at councillor Lan Pham.

He complained about mixed messages coming from different sections of the council.

"The flow on effect is that Ecan is pitting one group of the community against another which to my mind is quite destructive."

It goes on to say, "...may we respectfully ask that councillors support the objectives and targets and encourage unity to implement these plans, rather than further blame and isolate segments of the community."

Mr Lim refused to be interviewed but off tape said he did not want to see a return to the division that some say characterised the old council before it was sacked and replaced with government commissioners.

Critics of the council have fired back, accusing the committee chair of trying to stifle councillors from expressing alternative points of view.

The object of his complaint, Lan Pham, declined to be interviewed.

One of the meeting's organisers, Mike Glover, said while Mr Lim may not have liked what councillor Pham was saying, her comments reflected the platform she was elected on.

"When Lan was talking during the meeting she would often get a round of applause and cheers for some of things she was saying... none of the other councillors got that so she's addressing a demographic within the community."

He said Allen Lim's letter of complaint over her comments was heavy handed.

"If it can't allow dissension within the councillors, why did they allow democratically elected people on in the first place.

"Maybe the government's regretting that already, but that's the thing with democracy."

Forest and Birds' Jen Miller, said the letter was extraordinary and she could not see why councillors should all be singing from the same song sheet.

"You've got people like Lan and others who are elected because the community is expressing real concern about some of the planning decisions that are being made by the government-appointed commissioners.

"So I think some healthy debate and dissension is what is needed."

She disagreed with Mr Lim's logic that steps needed to be taken to prevent a return to the divisions that characterised the old council.

"We think that's rubbish, that narrative. We are very clear the reason the councillors were sacked was for the government to have the people to implement the economic growth agenda that they had."

It was important that councillors made it clear when they were expressing their personal views as opposed to those held by the council as a whole, said the council's chairperson, David Bedford.

"All the councillors think the Canterbury Water Management Strategy is the right way to go and I think increasingly the people perhaps who have come on to the council more recently are beginning to see this collaborative approach is a very powerful approach.

"And while it never makes everybody happy, the options of doing something else are not particularly palatable."

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