ECan rules behind closed doors

21:47, Jun 15 2014

Environment Canterbury commissioners have admitted making major decisions in secret.

Deputy chairman David Caygill told The Press that commissioners made some decisions in advance of their monthly public meetings because they were appointed to make choices, not to curry political favour with ratepayers.

His comments come after critics said ECan meetings were short, lacked debate and decisions appeared to have been made in advance.

The Government sacked ECan's elected councillors in 2010 after an investigation showed failings in water management and resource consent delays.

Caygill said the commissioners did not make political "position statements", unlike elected councillors. This meant less time was required to debate issues.

"There is a difference in process in what happens around an elected council table and a group of people just appointed to do a job. One is not better than the other, it is just an inescapable difference," he said.

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"If we discuss it among ourselves beforehand, as we often will have, then the decisions are pretty straightforward.

"That, from our point of view, is all that is necessary," Caygill said.

Green Party MP and one of the sacked ECan councillors Eugenie Sage said the lack of open discussion meant a loss of transparency and the right to have issues debated.

"There is a real loss of regional democracy here because they are deciding things behind closed doors. It means there is a reduction of transparency in decision making and you can see that in how they are now making all ratepayers pay for water science and for the management of resource consents," she said.

Last month, ECan changed the annual plan, introducing water science charges and management fees for resource consents for all ratepayers.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield said meetings were short because commissioners were more efficient than other councils.

"They are very efficient in their meetings and that is to be commended . . . they deal with the same issues as other councils but just do it quicker," he said.

Bayfield said the commissioners were aware of the issues because they were "highly engaged".

Each commissioner sits on at least one zone committee, and attends industry and community meetings.

Commissioners have heard seven deputations, or presentations by the public, on an issue since appointed in 2010. The previous elected council heard 10.

Caygill said that in the future "we need to get back to a measure of public accountability".

"One minor aspect of that accountability is the statement of people's position which you get around an elected table - you don't get that from commissioners. It's not the way we think," he said.

The Press