19 Mar 2015

Proposed Canterbury council structure questioned

6:38 am on 19 March 2015

Cantabrians say the Government is sending a message that democracy can not be trusted.

National Party MP Nick Smith

Nick Smith announced plans yesterday for Canterbury Regional Council. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Canterbury Regional Council was sacked in 2010, and replaced with government appointed commissioners, who have been in control ever since.

Minister for the Environment Nick Smith announced yesterday a draft discussion document which outlined plans for seven elected representatives, to sit alongside the six government appointees.

"The mixed governance model will ensure continued momentum on the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and earthquake recovery work," said Mr Smith.

Elements of the decision disturbed Christchurch City councillor Glenn Livingstone.

"You may not like a particular course of action that an elected group takes but the fact is, they are elected, on behalf of the community.

"They're elected there to make decisions, they're accessible, and we can challenge them from time-to-time and change them every three years. But they're still elected, and that's the fundamental principle."

The agenda was to ensure that the allocation of water went the way the Government wanted it to Mr Livingstone said.

Federated Farmers' national board member Chris Allen said that was a very cynical view.

"We've got to get most of the stars lined up when we're talking about water, whether it's quality, quantity, and the required infrastructure, and the plans that either allow that, or don't allow it.

"To get community engagement through the Canterbury Water Management Strategy is pivotal, and like all processes, the CWMS just so happened to come on line at the same time as Commissioners."

The people of Canterbury were more than capable of managing their own affairs, former chair of the Canterbury Conservation Board Jan Finlayson said.

"I think the expertise to govern Canterbury is right here, right now.

"We're very equipped with deep knowledge of the region, and its people. Its land, its water, its culture.

"So I'd like to see a full council, elected in its entirety by the people. I think it's time."

The Government appointing representatives may be insulting, but was within New Zealand's law, said Lincoln University lecturer in environmental policy Ann Brower.

"The bigger issues under the Environment Canterbury Act are the special powers given to the Regional Council, and the removal of the right of Cantabrians to take matters to the Environment Court."

Ms Brower said she was not anti-irrigation, but given all that was required to push some irrigation schemes through, the government's goals must be questioned.

"To take the court out of the equation, change the powers the regional government enjoys, 'Oh, and by the way, we won't have elections for the next indefinite period of time', if the only way you can achieve your goal, is to do all those things, and only in Canterbury, then you really have to question whether that goal is in the public interest."

Submissions on the government's proposed governance structure close on 1 May.

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