ORC votes to keep going on water plan

Photo: Supplied
Photo: supplied
The Otago Regional Council is playing a "dangerous game" that could end in commissioners taking over, a pair of councillors say.

The pair were two of four councillors who lost a bid to press pause on the council’s contentious land and water plan yesterday.

Chairwoman Cr Gretchen Robertson said the debate, which led to an 8-4 decision to instead continue working towards a June 30 notification date for the plan until at least next month, was mature and showed it was "not a split council".

Crs Michael Laws and Gary Kelliher nevertheless both said yesterday’s decision was an invitation to Environment Minister Penny Simmonds to disband the council and install commissioners.

Cr Laws said the council was playing a "very dangerous game of chicken" with the new government.

"You will invite commissioners into this council," he said.

"And they will deserve to be here.

"Because you refuse to accept the consequences of last year’s election and the very strong ministerial guidance you have been provided.

In the leadup to yesterday’s council meeting in Oamaru, several environmental organisations urged councillors to stay the course and notify their plan to manage the region’s natural resources as planned at the end of June.

The plan’s notification date has been at issue since late last year, when Resource Management Act Reform Minister Chris Bishop informed the council they were to be given until December 31, 2027, to complete their plan.

Gary Kelliher
Gary Kelliher
Subsequently, Ms Simmonds, Mr Bishop and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay this month urged the council to abandon the June notification date ahead of consultation and changes to the national policy statement for freshwater management, which underpins the plan.

A staff report yesterday recommended councillors note the ministers’ advice.

It advised awaiting a March report from staff on their review of the draft land and water plan to determine which areas could be affected by a national policy statement.

However, Cr Kelliher pushed for the council to accept the ministers’ "strong recommendation" instead.

"What we do not want for our ratepayers is to find that suddenly that we do have commissioners in place in this council, but who knows where this new government sits?

"Now is not the time to make a stand against a new government or desperately try to retain the ghost of [former Environment Minister] David Parker."

"Nobody’s ears are closed, nobody is ploughing on. We are considering really carefully where we are at at the moment," Cr Robertson said.

Cr Alan Somerville said the decision was not about taking a stand against the government, but rather looking after the environment.

Any delay in putting the plan the council had developed in place would lead to the "likelihood of continued pollution" and a delay to the improvement of freshwater quality across Otago, he said.

Crs Kate Wilson and Lloyd McCall said the plan was "at a crossroads", but, Cr Wilson said, deciding to delay notification now was premature.

ORC vote

Whether to accept the recommendation of the Environment Minister and delay work on the land and water plan

FOR: Crs Michael Laws, Andrew Noone, Gary Kelliher, and Kevin Malcolm.

AGAINST: Crs Alexa Forbes, Lloyd McCall, Tim Mepham, Bryan Scott, Alan Somerville, Elliot Weir, Kate Wilson and Gretchen Robertson