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Damning report into Environment Canterbury

Published: 11:09AM Friday February 19, 2010 Source: NZPA

A review team has recommended commissioners be appointed urgently to replace the Environment Canterbury (ECan) council and turn around what it considers woeful performance in terms of administering water management responsibilities and resource consent processes.

Government-ordered reviews were initiated last year for both the Far North District Council and Ecan after concerns were raised about their inability to adequately process resources consent processes.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide say the Far North District Council appeared to have addressed its problems and turned its performance around, but ECan had dire problems with its water management systems.

The government got involved after 10 regional mayors throughout Canterbury expressed concerns over Ecan.

Smith says the problems which surfaced during the review were much greater than expected.

Review team members Doug Martin and former National Party MP Wyatt Creech say problems within ECan were historic and deep-seated and the gap between its mandate to deliver on complex water management issues and its abilities to do so were huge.

"The issues in Canterbury are much more serious than the public realises," Creech says.

Martin says there appeared to be culture problems within ECan, including a "we know best" attitude, but problems went beyond that.

He says the relationship between ECan and territorial authorities in the region was "not good".

The review recommended setting up an entirely new authority to manage water issues.

ECan chairman Alec Neill says the authority would work constructively with the government following the release of the review report, but was disappointed at aspects of it.

The review team had chosen not to highlight good performance in areas such as clean air, passenger transport and regional transportation and urban planning, he said.

"In the last year, we have significantly improved both process and performance, with 90% of consents now being processed on time."

Neill says it needed to be noted that both parties had to take some of the blame for tensions between ECan and territorial authorities.

The report was for consideration only, and if implemented the recommendations would have a significant impact on the council and its activities, he said. "Some of the options under consideration will require new legislation before they can be implemented."

Local Government NZ said there needed to be a "pragmatic, workable solution" for ECan which didn't compromise local democracy.

President Lawrence Yule said ECan had struggled with some of the most complex issues regional councils faced.

"There is a need for swift, drastic action but there must be a firm commitment to elections in 2013 or earlier. Local democracy must never ever be compromised."

Yule noted ECan had taken steps to address downfalls, but they were "too little, too late".

Hide and Smith are considering the report's recommendations and will meet ECan, local mayors, local iwi Ngai Tahu and other relevant stakeholders next week to discuss the issues raised before making a decision on how to tackle the problem.