27 Jan 2021

Drafting error stopping contamination fines 'could be fixed in month'

6:32 pm on 27 January 2021

A legal loophole stopping councils fining companies caught dumping contaminated waste water down the drain could be fixed within a month, a government law expert says.

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At least 270 companies breached trade waste consents in the past year. Photo: 123RF

It comes as an RNZ investigation found at least 270 companies had breached their trade waste consents in the past year, but none had faced prosecution, which was the only course of action available to councils and too costly to pursue.

A drafting error in the Local Government Act 2002 meant the regulations allowing fines for consent breaches could not be written as intended, and councils' pleas to successive governments to fix the act have fallen on deaf ears for more than 18 years.

"It's not that difficult to close the hole," Victoria University association law professor Dean Knight said.

It just needed political will, he said.

"What we need is for the [local government] minister [Nanaia Mahuta] to promulgate some regulations which list all the trade waste bylaws and set a penalty.

"It's a pretty basic and straightforward bit of legislation... and I reckon that could be done in a month or so."

Stuart Crosby

President of Local Government New Zealand, Stuart Crosby. Photo: RNZ/ Andrew McRae

Stuart Crosby, the president of Local Government New Zealand, which had been lobbying for change for 18 years, said he would again press the issue with Mahuta when they met in Wellington in the next couple of months.

The loophole in the Local Government Act applied to any bylaw adopted by councils, which meant they could not issue on-the-spot fines for things such as damage to council property, nuisance issues, rubbish dumping and car window washers.

"It's not just about the fine and the money, but using that as a deterrent," Crosby said.

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