Hearing support criticised

Andrew Whiley.
Andrew Whiley.
The Dunedin City Council's support for lengthy public consultation over exploratory oil and gas drilling has been criticised by one of its own councillors.

Cr Andrew Whiley took aim at the stance at the end of the council's draft budget hearing yesterday, saying it amounted to a ''huge barrier to business''.

Councillors were being asked to sign off a council submission to the Ministry for the Environment, which was seeking input on a proposal to make exploratory drilling a non-notified discretionary activity.

Under the change, oil companies would still be required to obtain a marine consent for any exploratory drilling from the Environmental Protection Agency, which would assess proposals and could apply conditions, a report by council corporate policy team leader Maria Ioannou said.

However, the proposed switch from discretionary to non-notified discretionary status meant consent applications would in future be considered without the public being notified, her report said.

The council, in its submission, argued against the change, saying it would remove the community's ability to have an input ''at an early stage'' and voice its opinion on exploratory drilling.

Councillors - led by Jinty MacTavish and Aaron Hawkins - voted to endorse the submission. Cr MacTavish said the council should be promoting ''participatory democracy'' where it could.

However, Cr Whiley criticised the move, saying it would allow up to 140 days for public consultation at a time when companies were looking only to explore potential prospects.

''I think that's a huge barrier to business and I think we really need to say let's support business to get started and let's see if something's there.''

He supported a non-notified process while companies worked to get a ''foot in the door'', but Cr Neville Peat disagreed, saying that would exclude public scrutiny of something that would receive it if it were to occur on land.

Cr David Benson-Pope warned the proposed change was not an isolated move, but rather part of a co-ordinated attempt to change environmental protection legislation and erode the community's ability to have a say.

Cr Lee Vandervis commended the council's submission, but predicted it would receive little attention.

''It will get filed. It will get taken no notice of at all.''

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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