ECan chairman guilty of hypocrisy: farmer

Mid Canterbury farmer Daryl Butterick on his farm at Greenstreet, inland from Ashburton. PHOTO:...
Mid Canterbury farmer Daryl Butterick on his farm at Greenstreet, inland from Ashburton. PHOTO: JONATHAN LEASK
Mid Canterbury farmer Daryl Butterick says he’s shocked by the hypocrisy of Environment Canterbury’s chairman.

Peter Scott, the chairman of Canterbury’s regional council, which covers part of North Otago, has stood down pending an investigation following recent media comments about his "illegal" farming activity.

During a recent interview with Newstalk ZB, Cr Scott said two of his consent applications for irrigation had been delayed by another government agency for six years.

He was waiting on clearance "to irrigate a piece of land that they didn’t know existed on my property before I can get my farm environment plan and my land use consent".

"I’m carrying on and ignoring the fact that I haven’t got one so I’m actually operating illegally, and I’m the chairman of Environment Canterbury."

Mr Butterick said the hypocritical situation was unreal considering Canterbury farmers watched a stream run dry as they waited for approval to divert water into it.

"We’ve been playing by rules with this consent review and getting hammered by them, and here was the boss trundling along doing his own thing."

Locals have been critical of the Ashburton/Hakatere River consent review, which was aimed at creating a level playing field and keeping more water in the river, but it appears more like "one rule for some", he said.

The Greenstreet farmers wanted to divert water from O’Shea Creek into Greenstreet Creek to keep the aquatic life alive — not for irrigation purposes — in early February but had to wait for council chief executive Stefanie Rixecker to use emergency powers to do so on March 21.

Had they just gone and opened the gate without asking permission, they would have put their consents in jeopardy, Mr Butterick said.

"We could have lost our consents altogether."

The farmers could not risk it as "it’s people’s livelihoods we are talking about so we had our hands tied".

Environment Canterbury chairman Peter Scott, who has stood down. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Environment Canterbury chairman Peter Scott, who has stood down. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
In relation to the ECan chairman’s issue, the regional council found a parcel of land on the farm owned by Cr Scott was potentially Crown land, but he continued to farm it.

It is understood he has since sold the farm.

Federated Farmers vice-president and South Canterbury farmer Colin Hurst said it was "more of a technical consent breach" than a blatant one.

"It’s going to be good to get an independent review of how it’s played out.

"But it highlights the backlog of getting consents issued."

An Environment Canterbury spokesperson said the council was aware of the status of Cr Scott’s consents.

"Sometimes consent applications can be delayed when information is required from third parties — as is the case here."

Cr Scott’s radio interview related to ECan introducing new procedures to manage a backlog of consent applications.

The ECan spokesperson said they would advise against people operating illegally while waiting for ECan consent.

"I have sympathy, but I wouldn’t advise them to [operate illegally].

"Some of these consents that we are doing, there is not a lot of risk associated with them but it is the RMA [Resource Management Act] we are dealing with, and when we start seeing people doing the things they are not supposed to do we also have a legal responsibility to make sure we check up on that," the spokesperson said.

The investigation into Cr Scott will be carried out by an independent external reviewer and is anticipated to take several weeks.

Deputy chairman Craig Pauling has taken over as acting chairman.

Neither ECan nor Cr Scott would comment further while an investigation was under way.

By Jonathan Leask