25 Nov 2015

Mayoral team challenges Environment Canterbury Bill

7:23 pm on 25 November 2015

The Christchurch mayor and deputy mayor have delivered a hard-hitting submission to a select committee hearing on the Environment Canterbury Bill.

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council has delivered a hard-hitting submission on the Environment Canterbury Bill. Photo: RNZ

The bill proposes moving to six appointed and seven elected regional councillors at next year's local government elections.

The councillors were sacked by the government in 2010 over their failure to introduce a water plan for the region.

Christchurch deputy mayor Vicki Buck said it was an insult the government did not trust Cantabrians to vote for their own regional councillors.

"After a natural disaster, where I think the city and the regions have done amazingly well in bringing all sorts of innovations to the fore, to say to that community 'you are just not competent to elect an entire regional council' is so wrong."

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said it was bizarre the new bill retained the status quo, in which Environment Canterbury had control over public transport in Christchurch.

She asked for it to focus solely on water and for functions such as public transport and air quality to be devolved to city and district councils.

"This is the last chance we'll get to do this for at least another six, nine, 12 years, why would you let a chance like this go by.

"I honestly thought this discussion document was going to include this option... and I don't know why it didn't."

Ms Buck said urban voters supplied 60 percent of the rates for the regional council every year. Under the proposed mixed model of seven elected and six appointed councillors, only 30 percent of councillors would be elected by those urban voters, she said.

Ms Dalziel said the bill went against the principle of no taxation without representation and, while the commissioners had done a good job up until now, the time was right for a return to full democracy.

The city council's written submission to the committee was worded even more strongly, and talked about the government being blinkered and extraordinarily arrogant.

Submission advocates for rural voters

Another submission said the bill did not go far enough to ensure the interests of rural voters were represented on the council.

Waitaki Irrigators Collective spokesperson Elizabeth Soal told the committee it wanted to see wards established not on a population basis but on a per-square-kilometre basis.

This would put more rural-based members around the council table than urban-based ones and that was as it should be, she said, because most of the region's lakes and rivers were located outside of Christchurch.

Most of the submissions today opposed the bill, including a string of private citizens who said they were appalled at being treated like second-class citizens and having their voting rights removed.

They wanted to know why the region was being treated differently to every other region in the country.

One submitter said the disagreements around the regional council table that led to the councillors being sacked were a sign of a healthy democracy and not a justification for suspending it.

The select committee will report back to the government by the middle of February next year.

The bill needs to be passed in time for next year's local government elections.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs