Firms go into liquidation owing big debt to council

The companies behind a controversial cubicle-dairying proposal in the Upper Waitaki have gone into liquidation owing Canterbury ratepayers close to $320,000.

Briefing notes for Environment Canterbury's commissioners finance and audit committee yesterday reveal that Southdown Holdings and Williamson Holdings' voluntary liquidation caused concern for the regional council's consent department, as the companies "collectively owed ECan $315,952".

The latest revelation marks yet another chapter in what has become an extremely entangled saga.

In 2009, the companies were first behind a proposal to collectively house more than 16,000 cows in cubicles in the Ohau and Omarama basins. It drew fire from several organisations, with the Green Party's co-leader, Russel Norman, blasting the idea as "factory farming".

ECan received more than 5000 submissions against the proposal, eventually sparking a Government call-in for the effluent consents.

An ECan-appointed independent hearings body declined the water use consents, which effectively scuppered the companies alternate "mixed farming" proposals as well.

An Environment Court appeal is pending, but it is unknown whether that will still go ahead after the companies filed for voluntary liquidation. Southdown Holdings director Richard Peacocke could not be reached for comment last night.

ECan commissioner for finance David Bedford said they had requested a report from staff about the process of dealing with outstanding debts. He was confident that staff were doing their best to address debts owing to the regional council.

At June 30, ECan had about $17.45 million owing from debtors of whom about $5.72m, or 33 per cent, had been outstanding for three months or longer.

"We're satisfied by the level of care and attention staff are dealing with it. It's not for us commissioners to get involved as it is an operational rather than governance matter."

It is understood the money owing is related to outstanding consent costs. Most of the overdue consent processing invoices related to large consent hearings, particularly those in the Upper Waitaki hearings, many of which are either awaiting decisions or have Environment Court appeals pending.

The Timaru Herald