Local government within Canterbury has some big problems that need addressing so I made sure I was at the Hurunui District Council’s public meeting held on 17 March. The purpose of the meeting was to engage the full council with visiting ministers Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, and Rodney Hyde, Minister for Local Government.
Since the release of Wyatt Creech’s report on ECan and its troubles, these ministers have had meetings with the eight mayors within Canterbury, one meeting with Christchurch City Council and one with each of the regional councils to get a greater understanding of how the communities are feeling, as understood by the councils.
The ministers were pleased to receive feedback from the Hurunui councillors and, to a councillor, all attested to the failure of regional councils to adequately address the core environmental functions required to progress Hurunui towards a prosperous future. ECan appears to be an impediment to the council’s vision and long term plan.
Messrs Smith and Hyde outlined four options to improve the situation; these ran from limited intervention through to total replacement of ECan. The Hurunui District Council gave a clear signal that it wanted to see major changes and not just some ‘tinkering around the edges’. It indicated to the ministers that some speedy action was required; this is not the time to drag one’s feet.
I was very impressed by the level of engagement by the ministers and councillors and believe it was of considerable help. Central government intervention in local democracy only occurs at a really high threshold which has obviously been reached. In my view the meeting was appropriate, enlightening and democratic.
Water is central to many of the problems faced by the Hurunui District Council. Water management must be put in the context of water quality and environmental protection and we’re confident we can have a ‘win, win’ situation within this context.
A little known Christchurch MP has spoken out as something of an authority on these issues but he comes from a background of limited experience. The people he’s trying to appeal to those who have consistently stalled progress which is why central government has finally been called in.
There have been decades of inaction following a strategy drafted by the local mayors and tragically, it only takes someone not getting their own way for the whole deal to collapse.
Criticising current moves that is fine, but this MP needs to offer some tangible solutions too. For nine years Labour did nothing to progress the situation so it’s too late to start posturing once National begins work on a solution.
Whoever is finally appointed to lead Canterbury out of the current situation will need an extraordinary set of skills, strong leadership, and the ability to deal with significant new policy development.