ECan's fate revealed tomorrow

PAUL GORMAN
Last updated 12:13 06/09/2012

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An announcement on the future of Environment Canterbury (ECan) will be made tomorrow.

Local Government Minister David Carter has called a media conference for 10am at the Ibis Hotel in central Christchurch that will reveal "the future governance'' of the regional council.

Government-appointed commissioners have been in charge of the council since councillors were sacked early in 2010 by then environment minister Nick Smith and local government minister Rodney Hide.

Legislation passed at the time included a commitment that regional councillors would be elected again in October 2013 at the latest.

The Press understands that tomorrow's announcement could include that elections will not take place next year.

That might mean the commissioners will have their terms extended.

Delaying elections is likely to require legislation or an amendment to the Environment Canterbury Act.

Christchurch Green Party MP and former ECan councillor Eugenie Sage said she understood there would be no election for regional councillors in October next year.

A spokeswoman for Carter said yesterday that the future of ECan had been discussed by the Cabinet.

Carter did not want to comment on ECan elections or commissioners' terms, other than to say details of the council's future would be announced "shortly", the spokeswoman said.

Sage said restoring regional democracy was a priority, "given the constraints on decision-making by elected city councillors" under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority legislation.

"I understand that the minister and Government are considering options of either having a mix of appointed commissioners and elected councillors, or even worse that there would be no election for regional councillors next October," she said.

"That would be an unacceptable throttling of democracy in Canterbury.

"No taxation without representation is a fundamental democratic principle. For the last two years, Cantabrians have paid rates of around $80 million each year to Environment Canterbury with no elected voice in decisions about how those rates are spent.

"There is no justification for denying Cantabrians a vote on who should manage the region's water, coast, air and natural hazards."

Labour local government spokeswoman Annette King said the Government should "front up" about ECan's future.

A delay beyond next year might help if the Government wanted to consider abolishing ECan and create a "super Christchurch council" that could encompass the region and district councils.

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She wanted to know whether commissioners had been involved in reporting to the Cabinet on what should happen to ECan.

"The people of Canterbury, they are sick to death of secrecy. They want to know what is happening to the region and their organisation," King said. "If commissioners gave advice to the Government, they should stump up with it."

- The Press

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