Govt rejected ECan advice

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2012

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Environment Canterbury (ECan) commissioners warned the Government that Christchurch's earthquake recovery should not be used as an excuse to suspend democracy, documents reveal.

Last month, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams said ECan elections would not be held until 2016, despite a Government promise to hold regional council elections next year.

Instead, a ministerial review of ECan's governance arrangements will be held in 2014.

Government-appointed commissioners have been in charge of the regional council since democratically elected councillors were sacked early in 2010.

This went against a recommendation at the end of July by the Internal Affairs Department and the Environment Ministry to establish a transitional body made up of elected councillors and Government-appointed members, which would be subject to ministerial review by 2017.

At the time, Carter said one of the main reasons the commissioners' terms were extended was because the Government did not want to disrupt the progress the commissioners had made.

"We weren't prepared to put that progress [in jeopardy]," he said.

However, in an April letter to Carter, released to The Press under the Official Information Act, ECan chairwoman Dame Margaret Bazley backed the mixed model.

She wrote that the proposal for a mixed model was based on the commissioners' experiences, learning and observations.

"The proposal allows for and recognises the unique situation in Canterbury currently and the significant role the region plays in the national economy and potential for the future," she said.

A report by the commissioners, which accompanied the letter, called Regional and Local Government Structure in Canterbury, said ensuring the quake recovery and the implementation of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy were not jeopardised was "paramount" in their recommendation to reinstate democracy.

It recommended a mixed-governance model of six to eight elected member plus four to six Government-appointed members as the "most appropriate solution".

"The commissioners believe that with the recruitment, retention and development of existing and new staff the current council has the scale and is well placed to maintain this progress," it said.

Minutes from the Canterbury Mayoral Forum on February 27 this year, also obtained under the act, refer to the future governance of ECan.

"Having some appointed members in the future was supported as they can bring specific expertise into the organisation,'' they said.

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"However, a return to democracy was also important, with the need for a balance in representation noted."

Carter has refused to publicly release the report that led to the axing of ECan elections until 2016, which he said recommended continuing with the Government-appointed commissioners for another four years.

The report is expected to be released to The Press under the act this week.

- The Press

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