9 Jul 2015

Mixed reactions to ECan election plan

8:44 am on 9 July 2015

Cantabrians will have to wait another four years before being able to fully elect their regional councillors.

National MP, Nick Smith.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Government yesterday announced that the Canterbury Regional Council will return to having a fully elected council in 2019, nine years after the Government replaced the councillors with appointed commissioners.

Opposition MPs have criticised the phased transition but Federated Farmers has welcomed it, saying moving back to a fully elected council too soon was risky.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the phased transition back to a fully elected council ensured momentum in completing Canterbury's water management strategy and earthquake recovery work was maintained.

But the Green Party's spokeswoman for Christchurch, Eugenie Sage, said the Government's justification was "nonsense" and said keeping the commissioners in place was all about controlling the region's water.

"The real reason is in the discussion document - the risk they see about not being able to dominate the water management agenda for Canterbury," she said.

"The Government wants to continue to dominate the council with its hand-picked members to direct them in terms of weak plans and water management to expedite irrigation."

Ms Sage, who was among the councillors sacked in 2010, said there had been no evidence of improvement in water quality since the commissioners took over.

The Labour Party's environment spokeswoman, Megan Woods, said the Government had not provided good enough justification for why Canterbury was the only place in the country where the Government had so much interference at a regional council level.

She said nine years without a fully elected regional council was "completely unacceptable".

"We know from documents that the ministers did receive advice that not returning to a fully democratically elected council carried risk....of setting a dangerous precedent for future changes," she said.

"...It is a real concern that warnings about the state of democracy is not something that ministers have chosen to heed."

National president of Federated Farmers, William Rolleston, said a phased approach was sensible.

He said the commissioners had made difficult decisions that balanced the needs of farmers with environmental concerns and admitted to being concerned about what a return to a fully elected council might mean.

"That will just depend on...what sort of influence politics is going to take in terms of representation from the city versus the rural areas and whether there's a push towards shutting down what farmers are able to do."

He said politics was a "fickle thing".

"And elections can be fickle as well," he said.

The regional council would move to a mixed model of seven elected councillors and up to six appointed next year before a fully elected council took over in 2019.

The decisions announced yesterday would be included in a bill, with the public having a further opportunity to make submissions later this year.

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