'The people's ECan': protesters occupy regional council

Protesters stormed the Environment Canterbury office in Christchurch on Thursday.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Protesters stormed the Environment Canterbury office in Christchurch on Thursday.

Nearly 100 people occupied Environment Canterbury's (ECan) offices demanding changes to a trend of "big irrigation, more cows and more polluted rivers".

The protesters, backed by Greenpeace, set up in the regional council's lobby on Thursday, hanging banners that read "Save Our Rivers – Democracy Now".

It was the third in a series of recent protest actions related to water issues in Canterbury. Last week, several Greenpeace protesters were arrested at a dam building site associated with Central Plains Water.

The protesters demanded changes to irrigation, cow numbers and river water quality.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

The protesters demanded changes to irrigation, cow numbers and river water quality.

They had earlier occupied another site associated with the irrigation scheme.

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"Right now, the state of our rivers in this region and around the country is in a crisis state," Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop said.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield says the protesters have been welcomed.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield says the protesters have been welcomed.

"This movement to save our rivers has been happening for a long time, and today we've taken it to the next level."

Fake cows were placed on the reserve in front of the building. Various speakers addressed the group in the lobby.

It was a message aimed towards all political parties vying for a place in the next government, Toop said.

Artist Sam Mahon recently placed a large, lifelike sculpture of Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith outside ECan's ...
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Artist Sam Mahon recently placed a large, lifelike sculpture of Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith outside ECan's Christchurch office.

"We want clean rivers in New Zealand and to get there we need fewer cows and democracy restored to Canterbury. 

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"We have three huge irrigation schemes, one currently under construction and two in the pipeline, which are being funded by the Government, which are being allowed by ECan, and which will be a disaster for our rivers."

ECan's elected council was sacked by the Government in 2009. Appointed commissioners took their place.

Half the council is elected and the other half appointed. 

The activists set up "The People's ECan" inside the lobby. Many had pledged not to move, even if asked, and would remain for at least the duration of the day.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield said the organisation had welcomed the protesters and they would not have to move.

"Environment Canterbury has welcomed Greenpeace into Tuam St today and we are making them comfortable with tea and coffee," he said.

"We've had good interaction with the protesters, we respect their views and they in turn are respectful of the fact this is a busy work environment."

Bayfield said Greenpeace had assured ECan the protest would be peaceful and his staff continued to work around them.

​ECan is no stranger to protest: artist Sam Mahon recently placed a large, lifelike sculpture of Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith defecating into a drinking glass on a footpath outside the building.

There have been periodic protests demanding a return to democracy.

Among the protesters was Bryan Clearwater, a dairy farmer from South Canterbury.

He said the groundwater beneath his farm was polluted with nitrates, and clean water was pumped to his house by Fonterra.

"We're obviously pretty concerned," he said.

"My colleagues in the dairy industry are not just receiving an environmental subsidy, we are receiving a public health subsidy as well."

His farm had a low environmental footprint and did not add nitrogen to the soil. He received a premium for the organic milk his farm produced.

He said dairy farming in Canterbury needed to de-intensify, with a focus on soil management and lower stocking rates.

"I think farmers are a pretty diverse bunch. When the regulations are put in place as they need to be put in place, they will come up with different solutions."

 - Stuff

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