Editorial: No need for secrecy

Last updated 09:19 28/01/2013

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It is clear that not a lot of information is going to be forthcoming from the Government until the decision is made whether it will build a new interisland port at Clifford Bay.

As Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says, this is not a new proposal. It has been around for decades; the Marlborough District Council has previously issued resource consent for a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay.

So the reason for secrecy on the Government's decision-making seems odd, especially around the council's discussions with the Ministry of Transport's Clifford Bay feasibility project team.

Firstly, the council's involvement is not commercial, and so it doesn't have commercial sensitivities to protect. Yes, it owns the Port Marlborough company, but that is a separate company governed by its own board and not under direct control of the mayor and councillors.

Secondly, the council's role with Clifford Bay is as the authority granting resource consent, which is a public process. The previous resource consent material is available from the council, and the ministry's project team would not need any confidentiality agreement to obtain that.

Thirdly, the council's role is to work on behalf of the people of Marlborough, especially - in this case - those in Picton, although if Clifford Bay does go ahead all of Marlborough will be affected.

The council's job is to advocate on our behalf, and to communicate with us what it knows. Agreeing to confidentiality agreements appears to constrain that ability, and that risks damaging the council's connection to its constituents.

It is a difficult balancing act for the mayor to appear fully communicative with his constituents, while at the same time adhering to restrictions on passing on information. Mr Sowman risks upsetting his voters at a time when he needs them most; this is election year for local government.

Mr Brownlee risks upsetting Marlborough voters, too.

While he wants people to let the Government make its decisions in peace, he has to remember his decisions affect people's lives, and significantly.

People in Picton have businesses and homes, and they may wish to make changes of their own. Until the Government makes up its mind, their ability to do that is limited. It is not surprising they are unsettled and unhappy with the lack of information available.

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- The Marlborough Express


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