Consent breach probe hush hush for now

01:50, Apr 20 2011

Secrecy surrounds the results of an inquiry into Horizons regional councillor John Barrow's consent breaches, with the council opting to discuss it behind closed doors.

Cr Barrow has been under scrutiny from Horizons' compliance team for several water take breaches at his farm. He demanded a review of the investigation – the results of which will be discussed at next Tuesday's council meeting.

However, the public will be excluded because of "legal privilege", Horizons spokeswoman Caroline Rowe said.

Mrs Rowe confirmed an independent investigation review had been completed and said because the findings came from an independent lawyer, the results were not initially able to be discussed publicly.

She said the council might choose, after the public-excluded forum, to pass any council decisions on the issue in an open arena, but that would be decided after hearing the results of the review.

Horizons has the right to waive its legal privilege, but Mrs Rowe said that it had so far not been discussed. "That would be something we may discuss at that [public excluded] part of the meeting," she said.

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Cr Barrow said he was happy to comment after the meeting, but had not yet seen any of the details that have come out of the review.

He said it was often council procedure to discuss things of this nature behind closed doors.

Earlier this year Horizons issued Cr Barrow with two fines and an abatement notice for taking more water than his consent allowed.

Cr Barrow has a dairy farm near Dannevirke and stood down as Federated Farmers Tararua president after he was elected to the council.

Fines totalling $3266 were issued in February and Cr Barrow called for an immediate review of the decision, saying Horizons had not investigated before issuing the fines. "They are substantial fines. It seems I am guilty till proven innocent."

At the time, Cr Barrow said his unit was not sending the right message to Horizons on the amount of water he was taking for irrigation, but the problem was now fixed.

A Horizons letter written by the acting environmental compliance manager, Greg Bevan, to Cr Barrow on February 14, said: "Extraneous matters, including your connection with the council, must not be permitted to influence decision-making. The integrity of our compliance function must be a priority."

Cr Barrow's election campaign last year criticised Horizons' "we know best" attitude. He highlighted his role as spokesman for the Ruahine River Care Group – 16 farmers who take water to irrigate their farms.

"We had a very strong and very co-operative working arrangement with Horizons Regional Council. Unfortunately, two disgraceful prosecutions and a third equally disgraceful attempted prosecution have absolutely destroyed this relationship," he said.

PRIVILEGED RELATIONS

Legal privilege protects communications between lawyers and their clients.

It allows legal advisers to provide candid advice on both the strengths and weaknesses of a case. A client may intentionally or unintentionally waive privilege in their communications with a legal adviser if the communications are not kept confidential.

If legal privilege is waived then it may mean any privileged documents relating to the case are no longer able to be kept confidential.

Manawatu Standard