Christchurch City Council accused of community board interference

Lyttelton Port at dusk. The port company wants to deepen and widen its shipping channel.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Lyttelton Port at dusk. The port company wants to deepen and widen its shipping channel.

The Christchurch City Council has been accused of "closing down" local concerns about a dredging project in Lyttelton Harbour, after it blocked a community board from making a submission on the issue.

Both the council and the community board's chairwoman say there was no conflict, but concerns have been raised about the situation's implication for boards to speak freely.

The council-owned Lyttelton Port of Christchurch (LPC) has applied for resource consent to dredge the harbour, allowing larger ships to enter the port.

The dredging plan proposed by the Lyttelton Port Company.
LYTELLTON PORT/SUPPLIED

The dredging plan proposed by the Lyttelton Port Company.

It will involve dumping 18 million cubic metres of sediment at sea, primarily at a site about 7 kilometres from Sumner Beach.

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The proposed dump site is within the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary and near several fisheries.

The proposal was harshly criticised by Ngai Tahu, which said the application was "fundamentally flawed" and failed to rule out potential damage to fisheries and sediment washing up on shore.

Most of the public submissions also opposed the plan, citing how close the dump site was to shore.

Environment Canterbury, which will decide whether to grant consent, invited both the city council and the Banks Peninsula Community Board to make submissions.

Neither ended up doing so.

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Documents show the community board wanted to submit, but was blocked by the council.

The community board had raised concerns about sediment transfer and the possible environmental impact on the harbour.

On November 14, the board voted to request the council make a submission based on independent scientific advice, and share the information with community boards.

It said if the council chose not to make a submission, the board wanted to make one of its own, the meeting's minutes show.

Two weeks later, a council staff report said because the port was a "strategic asset of importance to both the Christchurch district and the Canterbury region", it was not deemed a local matter.

It said it was therefore an issue for the council to submit on, despite the fact it had already decided not to.

On the report's advice, the board then revoked the resolution it passed at its earlier meeting.

Christine Wilson, the board's chairwoman, downplayed any conflict between the board and the council.

"We were happy to take the advice of staff as recommended – that's really the long and short of it, to be quite honest," she said.

It has raised broader concerns about the ability of community boards to freely submit on issues of local concern.

Darrell Latham, a member of the Linwood-Central-Heathcote community board, said the council had essentially "closed down" the Banks Peninsula board's concerns.

He has asked for the issue to be raised with the community board chairs at their next meeting.

"The community boards should be reasonably free and independent to make submissions on behalf of their community. It would appear the council would not share that objective."

It was hypocritical that the council had submitted strongly against petroleum exploration off the coast, but was silent on the impact of dredging from the company it owned, he said.

"There's a hint of double standards here – if you are closing down off-shore exploration because you're concerned about marine sanctuaries, then surely the same rules apply when it comes to dredging in Lyttelton Harbour?

"There has been very little discussion publicly from the city council on this issue. It's been very much left to Ngai Tahu and others to raise concern on behalf of the community."

The council said on Monday it did not submit because the application did not affect the council's direct interests, and "there was nothing [it] could usefully add".

Because the port's expansion was a matter of regional significance, it was not something a community board would typically submit on.

The council's ownership of the port played no role in its decision not to submit, strategic policy head Helen Beaumont said.

 - Stuff

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