11 Nov 2016

Michael Laws says Otago council a 'slothful beast'

10:31 am on 11 November 2016

Former Whanganui mayor Michael Laws, who was recently-elected to the Otago Regional Council (ORC), says he's not backing down on his election promise to shake things up.

New Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws.

New Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws. Photo: Supplied

The controversial former MP and broadcaster was elected by a narrow margin of five votes in the Dunstan constituency covering Central Otago.

He said water quality in the southern lakes such as Wakatipu and Hāwea had seriously degraded over the past decade and was at a tipping point.

He said the council had "dropped the ball" on reacting to Dunstan's environmental pressures, saying it was a "reactive and slothful beast".

"I've said that on the campaign trail. Why anybody would expect Michael Laws to change his views just because he's been elected seems rather odd to me."

He said the ORC had hidden in the background for too long, and most of the public did not actually know what it did.

Among three other new councillors elected alongside him is another Dunstan representative, Maggie Lawton, based in Wanaka.

Otago Regional Councillor Maggie Lawton.

Otago Regional Councillor Maggie Lawton Photo: Supplied

Mr Laws said although the pair came from opposing political backgrounds, they had teamed up to push Dunstan issues, and they were not going to be quiet.

Dr Lawton, who has a PHD in chemistry and is a consultant on water quality, said she was open to working with Mr Laws.

"We both want to get things done, we both want to involve community in determining what the issues are.

"We've got very common approaches I think, to what we do. We probably won't agree on everything."

She said her priority was pushing Dunstan's environmental needs at the regional council table.

Laws' comments not 'fair or factual' - ORC chairperson

The council's chairperson, Stephen Woodhead, said he did not accept that Dunstan needed a bigger voice.

"The regional council covers the whole of Otago and while there is some growth occurring in the Wakatipu and Wanaka area, and Cromwell, we've got to work with and manage the natural resources across the whole region."

Mr Woodhead said although the council was currently tackling how to get rid of 'lake snow' algae from the southern lakes, the water quality of the lakes was in otherwise good condition.

He said he was not not fazed by Mr Laws' comments criticising the council's work ethic.

"Michael doesn't actually have a good understanding of the region. He's a recent resident and is only starting now to get his head around how ORC functions.

"Those sorts of comments are often made during election campaigns and I just leave them there, I don't think they're fair or factual at all."

But Mr Woodhead acknowledged the council could do better to communicate with the community and said it would try to hold more public meetings.

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