Councillor keen to stay despite irrigation case

John Barrow's future as a Horizons regional councillor is unclear following a guilty plea on charges of breaching his farm's resource consent.

Horizons Regional Council brought several charges against Barrow, the Horizons councillor for the Tararua ward.

He pleaded guilty in the Napier District Court this week to four charges of taking excess water for irrigating his Dannevirke dairy farm, and one charge of failing to comply with an abatement notice.

A charge of failing to comply with an abatement notice and two of taking excess water were dropped.

The offending took place in late 2010 and early 2011.

Barrow's lawyer, Matthew Casey, had argued at previous appearances that a conviction would place his client's seat on the council in jeopardy.

But yesterday Horizons was refusing to speculate on Barrow's future with the council.

"A legal process is still under way following Mr Barrow's guilty plea. As the matter is still before the courts we are not able to comment on what this may mean for Mr Barrow's position on council at this time," a council spokeswoman said.

Although there are restrictions around who can stand for a local authority, once a councillor is elected there is no legal requirement for them to stand down after receiving a conviction. It is up to the council to decide if Barrow can remain a regional councillor.

Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon said there was "never anything to celebrate in relation to prosecutions".

"Consent holders have very clear responsibilities when it comes to complying with their consent and it is pleasing that in this current season we have had very high compliance among who take water from our streams and rivers."

In court this week, Mr Casey argued that a discharge without conviction would be appropriate because the offending was not deliberate and had not harmed the environment.

Crown lawyer Ben Vanderkolk, acting for Horizons, said the offending had been deliberate and amounted to Barrow "thumbing his nose" at council rules and warnings.

Outside court, Barrow said he had entered guilty pleas because to plead not guilty would have doubled the $50,000 he had already spent on the matter.

He said he believed he could remain a councillor but said there "would be some discussion with council" about that.

The case will be called in the Palmerston North District Court in April for a sentencing date to be set.

Manawatu Standard