Southland boss demands better national strategy

While the government has brought in "fixer"  Dame Margaret Bazley to solve perceived problems with Environment Canterbury after sacking its councillors, at least one regional leader believes it should be looking within.

Environment Southland chief executive Ciaran Keogh said a lack of leadership from the top has created a difficult framework for territorial and regional authorities to work within.

“The fundamental problem is that central government is picking on us for deficiencies that come from a lack of any coherent strategic policy at the national level for the past two decades,” Mr Keogh said.

“We were set up to regulate use [of resources] not to promote or facilitate it.”

The government’s sacking of Environment Canterbury’s councillors recently was a symptom of this broader and long-standing problem, Mr Keogh said.

ECan’s councillors were dumped by the government in favour of a team of appointed commissioners led by Dame Margaret.

The commissioners’ brief was to improve relations with Canterbury’s 10 territorial councils, to build on the work of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and to meet all the statutory obligations of the Resource Management and Local Government Acts to consult with the Canterbury community.

The government wanted to see an urgent improvement in freshwater management around water quality, water allocation and opportunities for water storage.

But, according to Mr Keogh, ECan’s councillors have been blamed for something that was not of their making.

He pointed out Environment Southland had only completed its own water management plan in the past 18 months – a fundamental project that started in the early 1990s.

Mr Keogh said regional councils are consigned to fail because of a lack of national leadership and strategic vision to provide an operating context.

In addition, he said there was no accountability for performance in fulfilling their environmental responsibilities.

“The level of investment in our regulatory and policy functions is determined by those who are regulated and who are of the view that less is best until their own rights are impinged on,” he said.

“In simple terms, we don’t know where we are meant to be heading.

“In the current context we are a waste of money but the role in some form is essential.”

Mr Keogh said the recent release of the clean streams Dairy Accord information throughout New Zealand showed that regional councils were working on doing the same job with different processes.

“There is no clear policy. We’re left to our own devices,” he said.

In a statement containing personal views about RMA and local government reform, Mr Keogh said New Zealand’s “major lack was attitude.”

“We don’t think as winners. We aren’t taking control of our own destiny. We have had no strategic vision and strategic leadership for the past two decades.”

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