31 Mar 2010

Protest in Christchurch after Govt sacks regional council

6:52 pm on 31 March 2010

More than 100 people protested in Christchurch on Wednesday over the Government's decision to sack the Canterbury regional councillors and replace them with its own commissioners.

The protestors say it is anti-democratic and the Government is making way for large amounts of water to be taken from rivers, to irrigate the land for what they say are unsuitable uses in the Canterbury plains, such as dairy farming.

Christine Dann organised the four protests outside the offices of National Party MPs.

Ms Dann says the Government has thrown away democracy and is rushing the change through Parliament.

The Environment Minister, Nick Smith, says Canterbury leaders called on the Government to intervene, saying he is offended by allegations the Government has an agenda.

The council says it has been asking governments for help for years and did not even get a formal reply.

Commissioners appointed

The Government on Tuesday appointed commissioners after a stream of complaints and a highly critical report by former National Cabinet minister Wyatt Creech.

The 14 regional councillors have been told their roles as democratically elected councillors will end on 1 May. They will be replaced by a panel of commissioners led by Dame Margaret Bazley for at least three years.

The move follows the Government's review of the council's management structure, in particular how it manages water issues in the region.

The panel has been given the task of resolving management issues over water - a move applauded by the area's 10 district and city councils.

But documents revealed to Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act show the council has been asking for guidance for four years.

It also warned the previous Labour government and the current National Government that legislative changes may be needed to streamline water governance issues in Canterbury.

Regional council chief executive Bryan Jenkins says if the previous government had implemented that idea years ago, it would have saved much angst and concern.

Dr Jenkins says he has had no answer as to why that could not have been done, as the regional council already successfully dealt with air quality in a similar way.

In a recent letter to Environment Minister Nick Smith, the regional council noted that its requests for assistance have never been formally acknowledged.

Water group applauds decision

Irrigation New Zealand chairperson Graeme Sutton says water is too important an issue to be used as a political football and is applauding the decision to sack councillors.

The move has angered dumped regional councillors, environmentalists and other groups, who believe it is undemocratic.

Rosalie Snoyink, of Malvern Hills Protection, says the Government's strategy is preventing or denying citizens public participation.

However, Mr Sutton says 10 district councillors and mayors asked the Government to step in - and that is democratic.

He says it is an ongoing problem and irrigators and environmentalists in Canterbury have not been happy for the past 10 years.