Casting vote papers over cracks

Syd Brown.
Syd Brown.
A casting vote by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull was needed to settle renewed divisions over fracking at a Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday.

The issue re-emerged at yesterday's full council meeting, after councillors last month voted 7-6 in favour of adding Dunedin's voice to calls for a national moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

The controversial oil and gas extraction process was already being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and a report is due by November.

Cr Syd Brown told yesterday's meeting he did not understand why the council would join others in calling for a moratorium ahead of the results of that investigation.

He believed the sheer volume of information available on both sides of the debate made it difficult to make a "judgement call" on the technique. None of it had been presented to councillors before they voted to endorse the moratorium calls on behalf of the city, he said.

"As far as Dunedin city is concerned, we should sit on the fence, wait on the Government to report back, and then find out from that information whether Dunedin needs to take a position," he said.

His comments won support from Cr Neil Collins, who said the council's role was partly to support projects providing the city extra employment, growth and wealth.

Despite the potential for oil and gas exploration in the region, the city's decision to endorse the moratorium sent a signal "we're not that interested", he believed.

Deputy Mayor Chris Staynes took exception to the comments, pointing out the council's moratorium call made no mention of whether the city supported oil and gas activities. It asked the Government only to take a "precautionary" approach until results of the official investigation were known, he said.

He also rejected the "very, very sensationalised comments" by the Otago Chamber of Commerce and a "local MP" over fracking and support for oil and gas exploration.

National's Dunedin-based list MP, Michael Woodhouse, last month questioned the council's support forsuch exploration off the coast in the wake of its moratorium call.

Chamber president Peter McIntyre last week expressed concern at negative comments by Mr Cull and Cr Jinty MacTavish about the oil and gas industry.

Cr Lee Vandervis said yesterday the moratorium call went a "step too far", while Cr Fliss Butcher believed the council should be "loud and noisy" in its opposition to fracking, because of the environmental risks it posed.

Yesterday's debate also centred on whether councillors could reverse the earlier decision to join the moratorium call.

Councillors at last month's committee meeting had the power to decide that, because the report on the issue had been listed as a "Part A" item.

That gave councillors at the committee meeting the final say, their decision not requiring final approval at the next full council meeting.

Yesterday's discussion occurred because the full council was asked only to approve the minutes of last month's meeting, including the fracking vote result.

Whether to do so was eventually put to the vote following yesterday's debate, with the result locked 7-7 until Mr Cull used his casting vote to "maintain the will of the planning and environment committee".

Crs Butcher, Paul Hudson, MacTavish, Staynes, Teresa Stevenson, Kate Wilson and Mr Cull voted for; Bill Acklin, John Bezett, Brown, Collins, Andrew Noone, Vandervis and Colin Weatherall against.

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