Dalziel lone voice against ECan plan

SHELLEY ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014

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Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel is the only Canterbury mayor who does not support the push for a future mix of elected and appointed members at the helm of the Environment Canterbury.

This month ECan governance options will be released for consultation by the Government.

Commissioners have been in charge since the 2010 sacking of councillors.

Mayors from Ashburton to Hurunui, zone committee members, ECan commissioners and representatives of the Labour Party support a "mixed model" makeup of the regional council when the government-appointed commissioners leave office in 2016.

But the city council is swimming against the tide, hinting of the remaining tensions.

At an ECan meeting last week, commissioner David Bedford said relationships with territorial authorities had healed from the turbulent period before the 2010 sacking of ECan's elected councillors.

All, he said, except the relationship with the Christchurch City Council.

In a statement to The Press, Dalziel ruled out appointed members for ECan.

"I believe in ‘no taxation without representation' and do not support the idea of unelected members for ECan," it said.

ECan deputy chairman David Caygill said commissioners had previously told the Government it supported a mixed-model.

In a 2012 document to ministers he said commissioners suggested the council be reduced from 14 to 12 with seven elected councillors, four from Christchurch, three outside of Christchurch and five appointed members.

Caygill said the model worked for district health boards and would ensure councillors worked as a "single team".

The 2010 Wyatt Creech-led investigation into ECan, leading to the demise of councillors, said there was "dysfunctional" councillor relationship.

Voting often reached a stalemate with "urban" versus "rural" factions in the council, meaning a 7:7 split was common, it said.

The "mixed model" approach has widespread support.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson said she supported it to ensure a smooth transition - "as long as the aim was for a return to fully-elected council".

Members from the 10 zone committees set up by commissioners to address water quality outcomes spoken to by The Press said they feared a loss of stability if a fully democratic council returned.

The mixed model was recommended in 2010 by the Creech investigation.

Territorial authorities, through the Mayoral Forum, started the Creech investigation after writing to the Minister about the failures of ECan.

Selwyn District Mayor Kelvin Coe is the last surviving member of the group.

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He recalled it being a "very tough decision to make". Asked if he still thought it the right one, he said: "History will tell."

Being sacked, he said, did not harm the political aspirations of some of the former councillors but said "it was interesting none of the city-based ones returned."

Former councillor and now Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay said the culture at ECan was now the "exact opposite" of the "arrogant" attitude branded in 2010 by Creech. "It is much improved - we talk to each other now," he said.

The consensus among most stakeholder groups and local bodies is the commissioners have mended fences and made significant progress on the management of water in the region.

Before the sacking, ECan had 29 per cent compliance with statutory time frames for resource consents - branded an "institutional failure" at the time.

ECan now has 98 per cent compliance.

But there are still significant challenges. Federated Farmers mid-Canterbury president Chris Allen called compulsory nutrient management budgets for farmers the biggest upheaval in the sector since Rogernomics.

"Farms have got to have environment plans and nutrient management, which is a huge change," he said.

He said the systems were confusing.

"If we struggle to understand it, imagine how Joe Bloggs the farmer feels," he said.

Critics say water is at its most precarious point ever.

Fish and Game environment adviser Scott Pearson said the resource consenting process had become "more permissive".

"Our real concern is there is a lack of staff to monitor this as a result. At the moment they just respond to the pollution hotline. There should be enough funding for staff so they are proactively out there getting their hands dirty and talking to land users," he said.

Water Rights Trust spokesman Murray Rodgers said water quality was decreasing because ECan had allowed "too many cows on the plains".

"Cow numbers are actually still increasing as if nothing has changed," he said.

He said the zone committee structure was over-represented with dairy farmers and irrigation companies, with too much authority given to members in setting nutrient levels for rivers.

DAMNING REPORT

2010 Wyatt Creech-led investigation into ECan said: ECan had an "institutional failure" with compliance to statutory time frames for resource consents at 29 per cent.

Fraught tensions with territorial authorities.

They described ECan as "always right, arrogant, overzealous and litigious".

A "piecemeal, fragmented and inefficient approach" to the management of water.

Councillors sought "information at an inappropriate level of detail".

ECan's "environmental" focus without addressing cultural, social and economic matters in resource consents.

Poor stakeholder relationships.

- The Press

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