18 Mar 2015

Opposition challenges Govt's ECan plans

7:09 pm on 18 March 2015

Opposition MPs are demanding that Environment Minister Nick Smith explains why Canterbury is being treated differently to every other region in the country.

New Zealand Government; parliament; Beehive

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Government has today announced a mixed governance model for Environment Canterbury (ECan), made up of seven elected members and six appointed commissioners.

Dr Nick Smith.

Nick Smith Photo: RNZ

The Government sacked the ECan councillors in 2010 and replaced them with government-appointed commissioners because of concerns about the council's failure to bring in a water management plan.

Labour Party spokesperson for the environment Megan Woods said there was "no rational case for treating Canterbury any differently".

"Enough is enough", she said.

"It's time to restore a democratically-elected council in Canterbury."

Green Party Canterbury and local government spokesperson Eugenie Sage said by the time the mixed model was introduced next year, Cantabrians would have been denied a regional council vote for six years.

She said there had been no demonstrable improvement in water quality in the region since the government-appointed commissioners took over.

Ms Sage was among the elected members sacked by the Government in 2010.

She said the mixed model proposal showed the Government did not trust local democracy in Canterbury.

"We were promised a vote back in 2013, that wasn't done ... and now it's been pushed out even further," Ms Sage said.

"No other region in New Zealand has appointed members on its regional council. It's all about facilitating irrigation development, water abstraction and the Government's resource-use economy."

Environment Minister explains decision

Environment Minister Nick Smith said returning to a fully-elected Canterbury Regional Council would carry too many risks.

Dr Smith said returning to fully-elected councillors would halt the work the commissioners have started on increasing irrigation in Canterbury.

"The fear would be that you've got this population divide pretty even between rural and urban, and rather than those commissioners being able to look for the middle way through, that you end up where we were - a highly polarised council not making any progress on these very important issues."

The proposals will be open for public submissions until 1 May.

The next local government elections take place in October 2016.

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