Ministers' Reviews of Environment Canterbury's Performance

The reviews of the performance and governance of Environment Canterbury [ECan] instigated in October 2009 by Minister for Environment, Dr Nick Smith, and Minister for Local Government, Rodney Hide, were made public in a report released today.  Under Section 24A of the Resource Management Act (1991) [RMA], the Minister for the Environment may investigate performance, failures and omissions of a local authority and make recommendations. Under Section 25, at his discretion, the Minister may appoint one or more persons to take the place of the authority, but only after written notice has been given and the authority has not responded in a manner which satisfies the Minister.  Similar powers are conferred on the Minister responsible for local government by Sections 253-256 of the Local Government Act 2002.  Today’s report by a Review Group chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech, also took into account current planning related to the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.  The Review Group is very critical of ECan’s recent performance and governance, being “struck by the ‘gap’ between ‘what needs to be done’ to appropriately manage water and ‘ECan’s capability to do so’.”  They call this gap “enormous and unprecedented” and say that “a profound change in approach is required”.  The Group finds much to commend about the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, but notes that this will not alone resolve the other problems identified.  The Review Group’s primary and major recommendation is that a new “Canterbury Regional Water Authority” [CRWA] should be created, with its own Act of Parliament, initially having only appointed members.  In the meantime, legislation should be urgently enacted to enable a temporary Commission to replace the ECan Council, which Commission would separate from ECan the water-related functions and transfer them to the new CRWA.  In the Ministers’ release today, Dr Smith called the Review Group report “concerning and challenging”.  He said that it was “difficult for the Government to ignore the unanimous conclusions of the four reviewers and the major issues they raise about its capacity to manage water in Canterbury”.  The two Ministers said that “the Government had not formed a view on the major changes proposed in the report”.  “We will be consulting with Environment Canterbury, Canterbury Mayors, Ngai Tahu and key water stakeholders before making any decision. Our considerations will be mindful of the recommendations for urgent intervention but also of the huge significance to the long-term well being of Canterbury of these proposals."  ECan Chairman, Alec Neill, has responded in a release today by pointing out some of the positive features of ECan’s work noted in the report and by stating that ECan “will work constructively with the government following the release of the review group report”.
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