Eugenie Sage

Building consents no excuse for Christchurch take over

by Eugenie Sage

Christchurch’s building consent issue and the appointment of a Crown Manager is not an excuse for the Government to further reduce the Christchurch City Council’s decision making and further restrict democracy in the city.

The Government gave itself increased powers under the Local Government Act last year and is now trying them out on the Christchurch City Council.   The Crown Manager’s powers exceed those of a CEO.  A Crown Manager can direct the Council (ie councillors), which a CEO cannot.

And who is the consultant put in place to fix this situation? Doug Martin, who is one of the people who recommended the axing of elected councillors at Canterbury Regional Council in 2010.

Doug Martin’s firm, MartinJenkins consultants, was also reported to have been hired to help National “overhaul” the Resource Management Act. The Government’s proposals here would give economic matters greater weight at the environment’s expense when councils consider resource consent applications.

We can’t put it past National to march in and take over the City Council given its record of trampling on democracy in Christchurch. In 2010 it got rid of regional councillors to promote the Government’s irrigation agenda and reduced appeal rights to the Environment Court in Canterbury.

Post ‘quakes it has used CERA’s sweeping powers to trample on public participation, democracy and normal RMA planning processes. This continues despite the emergency being long gone. And last year, Government extended the term for the unelected ECan commissioners so that Cantabrians can’t vote for their regional council in October.

National shouldn’t use the building consent issue as an excuse to undermine public confidence in the City Council or advance Government’s plans for a radical restructure of local government in Canterbury.  The City Council continues to deliver a host of services from libraries and parks to recycling to wastewater efficiently and effectively.

70 per cent of Christchurch residents are “satisfied or very satisfied” with the services Council provides according to the City Council’s recently-completed resident surveys.  It has done these surveys each year for the last 10 years and the Council’s overall score this year was the same as in 2011/12 survey.

The Christchurch earthquakes are the largest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history.  There is a huge spike in the building consent applications hitting the Council as we rebuild the city.  We need a robust and efficient consent process.

When Christchurch MPs met with City Councillors last Friday I was left in no doubt about councillors’ commitment to fixing the building consent issue. More training for staff and improving council systems are two priorities.

The Crown Manager must be in place for the minimum time needed for Council to improve its systems and regain accreditation. A professional and effective manager should be able to do that within six months. The 18 month term Government has allowed Mr Martin gives too much scope for meddling with other Council decision making.

 

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Eugenie Sage on Tue, July 9th, 2013   

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