Mayors not keen for fully elected ECan

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 01/01/2014

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A full return to democracy at Environment Canterbury (ECan) may be delayed if the region's mayors get their way.

Canterbury's elected leaders recently met Environment Minister Amy Adams to discuss the Crown's ECan review this year and several have confirmed they want an ECan made up of both elected and appointed members.

Government-appointed ECan chairwoman Dame Margaret Bazley also favours this option.

But that stance has been slammed as "extraordinary arrogance" by former ECan deputy chairwoman Jo Kane.

She said the mayors were showing "contempt for democracy".

The democratically elected ECan was sacked by the Government in March 2010 for apparently dragging its heels over water management and resource consent issues. Its return was due at the 2013 local body elections but commissioners will continue running it until 2016.

Canterbury mayors contacted by The Press all agreed a gradual but not instant return to full democracy was the best option.

Kaikoura mayor Winston Gray said the initial meeting gave the region's leaders some focus as they start to look deeper into the review process this year. The existing model had worked very well, especially with significant water issues and Gray wanted some form of government presence to remain.

"That would be my only concern that all of the good work gets undone by going into having fully elected representatives straight away . . . [the commissioners] have done a very good job."

Waimakariri mayor David Ayers also initially wanted a mixture of elected and appointed members but questioned whether the chairperson should be an elected or appointed person.

"It is different from a health board [model] because ECan has the power to rate, so who decides?"

Ayers was also concerned about a fully elected regional council returning immediately in 2016.

"The rural communities feel very engaged and that they are having their say over water planning, so I would hate to see the democratic model back if that slows that progress."

A "slow return" to democracy was best, he said.

Ashburton mayor Angus McKay was cautious, wanting a "form of democracy" to return.

He would like a mixed structure to take effect in 2016.

Kane said the mayors, as elected officials, showed "contempt for democracy" and the rights of their communities.

"[The sacking] was the biggest smokescreen ever put over Christchurch. The lies, the damnation of it, was sold to an unsuspecting community."

District councils had always "resented" the role of a regional council but failed to truly understand how they worked.

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"The mayors don't like [regional councils]. They never have and they never will. The contempt I feel they have for the role . . . tells me they don't understand their community or democracy."

Adams and Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel could not be reached for comment.

TIMELINE

March 2010: Government sacks democratically elected members of Environment Canterbury after concerns about their performance.

September 2012: Government announces commissioners to stay until 2016 after earlier promising elections in 2013.

September 2013: Existing commissioners have their terms extended until 2016.

December 2013: Canterbury Mayoral Forum meets Environment Minister Amy Adams in first formal talks about the Crown's review of ECan in 2014. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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