31, Mar, 2010

Environment and Democracy get the Chop in Canterbury

Category: ECO Inc

The Government’s axing of the Canterbury Regional Council (ECan) is a major threat to the environment and democracy in Canterbury.

ECO Spokesperson, Barry Weeber, said the Government should have looked to strengthen rather than to scrap the regional council.

“ECO was very concerned that these changes were taking places under urgency without public consultation or a select committee process.”

“The claims of the Minister for the Environment that these moves will better protect the environment, looks very doubtful.”

Mr Weeber said the Government seems to imagine that the current boom in dairy prices will continue indefinitely, and is therefore fixated on increasing irrigation in Canterbury without answering the question of whether there are alternative options for land-use apart from irrigated dairying.

“Examination of how to deal with the impacts on lowland water quality, biodiversity and the internationally significant braided rivers ecosystem will be cursory and unaccountable with an unelected panel. There is only so much abuse that our lowland waterways can take.”

“The Ministerial review report’s authors repeatedly questioned the science focus of the Council and considered it had too much focus on “adverse natural environmental effects” in resource consents advice.”

Mr Weeber said the Government’s decisions also threatened the whole water conservation system which had existed in law for nearly 30 years and the involvement of the Environment Court.

There had been a consistent failure of successive national governments and their officials in working out the legislative problems with water management.

The Government would be better to require regional councils to produce water plans under the Resource Management Act and to strengthen the footing of regional councils under the Act. “The development of national standards and national policies for water is long over-due.”

Mr Weeber said the absence of national policy and standards for water, and the weak provisions in dealing with non-point pollutions arriving from intensified dairying have also exacerbated the problem of water management in the region.

The report on which the Government is acting recommended establishing a water board and abandoning integrated resource management functions. This would have been a great leap back to 1970s resource mis-management. “The report failed to consider the impact on water quality, of water use and land management”.

“ECan was gifted a huge task which it has had difficulty in tackling, but the same equally huge task awaits the alternative.”

ECO was alarmed to see an undermining of the process and provisions of water conservation orders in the Canterbury Bill. “Water conservation orders have been in statute for over 30 years and there had been the key tool to protect rivers and their biodiversity.”

Mr Weeber said that the government’s move to replace an elected body with its hand picked appointees seems to be part of a wider trend by this government to reduce or remove democratic processes and to favour business interests.

For further information, contact or Barry Weeber 021-738-807 or (04)389-1686 or Cath Wallace on 021-891-994 or (04)463-5713


  1. ECO – the Environment and Conservation Organisations was established in 1972 and represents 67 groups with a concern for the environment.
  2. The Prime Minister in opening Parliament stated: "the Government will take action this year to remove regulatory roadblocks to water storage and irrigation in Canterbury."
  3. The Government’s review of the Canterbury Regional Council performance and its recommendations is a great leap backwards to the 1970s in resource management and local Government accountability. The report proposed to get rid of an elected regional council and in part replace it with a narrow focused water board reminiscent of the outdated catchment boards from the 1970s and 1980s. Copies of the report can be found on the Ministry for the Environment website at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/investigation-performance-environment-canterbury/index.html
  4. The report’s authors in many places think that ECan is too green, has too greater science based focus, there is a “lack of balance in decision making..”, and too much focus on “adverse natural environmental effects” in resource consents advice. The report considers the number of water conservation orders to be “nationally unrepresentative” and wants to “unlock” the potential for “future agricultural development in Canterbury”.

  5. Canterbury is the area with the most intensive conflict between water irrigators for intensive dairying and the community who wants to protect the environmental integrity of rivers and water quality. Canterbury has 15% of the national dairy heard and it has grown by 60 percent between 2002 and 2009. It also has over 66 percent of New Zealand’s irrigated land and about 55 percent of the total amount of water allocated under water consents.