ECan councillors sacked

Chief Government troubleshooter, Dame Margaret Bazley right, and outgoing ECan chairman, Alec Neil speak to the media outside the council offices today.
Chief Government troubleshooter, Dame Margaret Bazley right, and outgoing ECan chairman, Alec Neil speak to the media outside the council offices today.

Environment Canterbury's councillors have been sacked by the Government and there will be no fresh elections until as late as 2013.

Government troubleshooter Dame Margaret Bazley has been appointed chairwoman of the commissioners, and the search is on for the remaining six commission members.

ECan staff are being briefed on the sacking of the 14 elected councillors now, at the same time as Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide officially released their announcement.

Sacked deputy ECan chairwoman Jo Kane talks to media a short time ago.
Sacked deputy ECan chairwoman Jo Kane talks to media a short time ago.

The Environment Canterbury Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management Bill will be introduced and passed under urgency in Parliament this week.

The bill makes temporary amendments to the Local Government and Resource Management Acts to empower the commission, with those powers expiring in October 2013.

The outgoing councillors met at their Kilmore Street offices at 10.30am today for a telephone conference with Smith and Hide.

Deputy ECan chairwoman Jo Kane said she was "contemptuous'' of the Government's move and the way it had turned its back on the people of Canterbury.  

The decision comes after a report former National deputy prime minister Wyatt Creech's investigated failings at ECan.

The report recommended sacking the elected councillors and replacing them with appointed commissioners. It also proposed a regional water authority.

It also proposed a regional water authority.

Prime Minister John Key had sounded a note of caution over dismissing the entire council, however, but said he wants swift action to rectify faults uncovered by the Creech report.


The Government says it will defer local government elections for the Canterbury Regional Council till as late as 2013 after sacking its councillors.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide said commissioners would be given additional powers under proposed special legislation to address "urgent problems with water management in Canterbury".

Hide said it was the government's view that the problems identified by the review team were complex and could not be resolved through the normal electoral cycle.

"Commissioners will need a reasonable time frame to resolve these difficult issues. For this reason the Government proposes to defer the local government elections this year for the Canterbury Regional Council.

"The proposed legislation provides for new elections when commissioners have completed their tax but no later than the 2013 local government elections."


Smith said efficient water management was crucial to New Zeasland's competitive advantage and "our clean green brand".

"Canterbury is strategically important with it holding more than half of the country's irrigation water and hydro storage. Governmetn leadership is needed to address Canterbury's lack of a proper allocation plan, increasing problems with water quality and the failure to progress opportunities for water storage."

Lobby group Environmental Defence Society said today it was ``generally supportive'' of the action taken by the Government.

Chairman Gary Taylor said the special powers provided to commissioners needed to be temporary, however, and that the other commissioners would need to be carefully selected ``to ensure vested interests in water use do not dominate''.


Hide said the decision to install commissioners was ``without doubt, far and away the toughest decision I've made in my time as Minister of Local Government''.

There was a very high threshold to appoint commissioners and it was ``a very difficult decision'' that the council needed to be replaced. All ten of the councils within the ECan region agreed that commissioners were needed,  Hide said.

Smith said temporary legislation will be tabled in parliament this afternoon to enforce the changes.

ECan councillors were expected to finish their work and be formally replaced by May 1.

 Smith said fresh water was to New Zealand what oil was to Saudi Arabia.

 "It's at the core of our competitive advantage and also our clean, green brand,'' Smith said.

 "And with Canterbury having over half of the irrigated water in New Zealand and over half of the water that is stored for our renewable electricity, it is critical that we manage it in a far more competent way.''

 There were huge, long-standing problems with water management in the region with the resource being managed in an ``inconsistent and ad hoc way''.

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