New legislation passing through Parliament could make it
harder for new irrigation schemes and other large projects in
Otago to gain council investment.
Waitaki District Council chief executive Mike Ross said under
the new statement of purpose clause included in the Bill
amending the Local Government Act, investments such as the
council's $10 million loan to fund a 10,000ha expansion of
the North Otago Irrigation Company scheme, would have been
open to legal challenge.
But Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper has few concerns, saying
the key was to consult ratepayers during the planning
Mr Ross said the WDC loan, which was to be repaid in 2016,
would not be affected by the new Bill, because the decision
had been made under the existing legislation.
However, if the loan had been granted under the new
legislation, anyone "with an axe to grind" and the funds to
mount a judicial review, could challenge such a democratic
decision that had effectively kept "the economy of this
community rolling along right through the recession", Mr Ross
"It won't be able to overturn any investments that have been
made under the old purpose clause of local government, but it
may affect the ability of councils to invest in things that
any particular opposition group has a reason to oppose."
He said "disaffected parties" could in future challenge any
local council decision they did not like.
The Bill will change the purpose of local councils from
having to act in the economic, environmental, social and
cultural "wellbeing" of constituents, to providing
"good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and
performance of regulatory functions."
Mr Ross anticipated legal challenges throughout the country,
as councils made decisions on what to include in their annual
plans next year.
Mayor Alex Familton said the introduction of the Bill had put
the Government on an "incorrect course".
Mr Familton said the Bill would result in "large" litigation
costs for councils, at a time when WDC was trying to reduce
disputes through involvement with the Mackenzie Sustainable
Futures Trust to end legal wrangles between farmers and
Cr Jim Hopkins said the uncertainty surrounding the
definition of the new narrower statement of purpose for
councils was "frightening".
Dunedin-based Labour MPs David Clark and Clare Curran
yesterday lambasted the changes to the purpose clause.
Dr Clarke said there was no evidence to show that "the four
wellbeings" had resulted in higher rates or any expansion of
local government activities, and added the new clause did not
take into account "the special needs" of small or isolated
Ms Curran said the Bill could also threaten activities like
the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.
Local Government Minister David Carter said the Bill's
passage completed the first phase of the Government's Better
Local Government reforms, which would "focus local
authorities on operating more efficiently and effectively, by
doing things that only they can do".
Mr Lepper did not fear the Bill being a barrier to large
projects, including irrigation, starting in his district.
"I think we have a very sensible population, and as long as
we consult with them during the planning process and take
them with us, they are unlikely to make legal challenges."
Central Otago District Council chief executive Phil Melhopt
said time would tell if the Bill sparked any increase in
litigation. The Central Otago council had "very few
litigations" in its history.