Ngai Tahu guaranteed two seats on Canterbury regional council

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon, former ECan comissioner Donald Couch, and chair of the commissioners Dame Margaret ...

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon, former ECan comissioner Donald Couch, and chair of the commissioners Dame Margaret Bazley at Couch's leaving party last year.

South island iwi Ngai Tahu will have guaranteed representation on the Canterbury regional council when it returns to partial democracy later this year.

The Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) bill will introduce seven elected councillors to join six government-appointed commissioners.

It allows for, but does not guarantee, a return to full democracy in 2019.

A Parliamentary select committee considering public feedback on the bill has reported its findings, leaving it largely untouched.

It upheld the bill's most controversial aspects, including extending the reign of the commissioners and restricting the right to appeal decisions to the Environment Court.

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It paves the way for Parliament to pass the bill before elections later this year.

Of the 1169 written public submissions received about the bill, 15 were in support.

The Law Society and the Christchurch City Council objected. Support came from a group comprising 10 of the region's mayors and Ngai Tahu.

Despite public opposition, the majority of the select committee said the new structure "would retain the specialist knowledge and expertise within the council" and ensure a smooth transition to full democracy at a later point.

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In one of the few changes it recommended, it included a clause requiring two of the commissioners be nominated by Ngai Tahu.

Currently, Ngai Tahu nominates one of the seven commissioners. Elizabeth Cunningham replaced Donald Couch as the Ngai Tahu-appointed commissioner when he left last year.

In its submission to the committee, Ngai Tahu asked that three commissioners be appointed by the iwi, reflecting an equal partnership with the government.

Nevertheless, Ngai Tahu chief executive Arihia Bennett said the iwi was pleased with the new clause.

"Although we would have preferred three appointments to properly reflect the Treaty Partnership, we believe two appointments on the recommendation of the iwi is a good step in the right direction," she said.

All parties unanimously agreed to the clause, but Labour and Green party committee members opposed the bill at large.

Labour members, which included Megan Woods, Ruth Dyson, David Parker and Su'a William Sio, said the bill ignored key principles of local government. They said its "rushed" nature had led to a truncated submissions process.

"We believe that the Government has failed to make a logical, rational, or compelling case for the continuation of a system of regional government in the Canterbury region that is different than the rest of the country," they wrote.

Green party members Eugenie Sage and James Shaw opposed.

"Cantabrians will have been denied a fully functioning regional democracy for nearly a decade under this bill... Submitters strongly opposed the bill because it undermines democratic rights and because water quality and the state of Canterbury's environment have continued to decline under the commissioners' regime."

Both parties criticised the continuation of limiting appeals to the Environment Court.

The bill will return to the House of Representatives for its second and third reading.

 - Stuff


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