Too soon for talk of commissioners: Parker

Delays over Manuherikia River flow decisions have been a bone of contention in the Otago Regional...
Delays over Manuherikia River flow decisions have been a bone of contention in the Otago Regional Council. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Delays over Manuherikia River flow decisions have been a bone of contention in the Otago Regional...
Delays over Manuherikia River flow decisions have been a bone of contention in the Otago Regional Council. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Talk of replacing councillors with commissioners at the Otago Regional Council is premature, Environment Minister David Parker says.

Mr Parker has been drawn back into the spotlight in Otago politics as councillors decided against noting minimum flows for the Manuherikia River last week.

In a 6-4 vote, councillors asked for more technical work to be done in the priority river, including habitat modelling, and a scientific peer review of the hydrology work.

Until then, the long-polarising issue of setting water levels or take limits in the river will not be done.

In the days following the vote, a petition asking Mr Parker to dismiss the councillors and install commissioners to run the council was launched.

It has gained about 500 signatures over the past two days.

Cr Marian Hobbs, the council’s previous chairwoman, said she was among those who signed it.

Alternatively, her replacement, chairman Andrew Noone backed the councillors.

"Clearly there are some groups and individuals that feel very strongly about the future of the Manuherikia; so do we," he said.

Federated Farmers Otago president Mark Patterson commended councillors for asking for more science to be done.

He said the next election was the time to decide who should run the council.

Farmers in particular were under huge pressure, he said.

"It was a decision that would have had huge implications for the irrigators, and flow-on effects for the local community, and as far as I’m concerned it was elected representatives doing exactly what they are elected to do," he said.

Otakou marae kaumatua Edward Ellison said this was another example of a council struggling to make progress on water issues facing the river.

A minimum flow would not carry statutory weight.

Instead it would be an important signal to everyone about the degree and rate of change for the river ahead.

The scientific work councillors were waiting on, when complete, would add to, but not substantially alter critical findings.

"Really, what the council seemed to be struggling with is the fact that they have to make a decision here," he said.

"Science will not make it for them."

While he was concerned about the decision, he said council staff "are really up to the game".

"And the council need to be mindful of that; they need to be leading in a positive way and working with staff and leading them, as well, in a positive way.

"I’m not sure they [council staff] would say that’s happening."

Council chief executive Sarah Gardner said no discussions about commissioners had been held between staff and the Government.

"This is a matter for governors and the Minister for the Environment, and questions are best put to them," she said.

"The staff’s role is to implement the decisions of the council of the day."

Mr Parker said he was aware of the petition through media reports, but he had not received it.

He also noted a letter he received before the decision from some councillors had raised concerns about a series of issues he said he would look to understand before commenting further.

"It would be premature to speculate about appointing commissioners," he said.

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