Plan Change 6, as directed by the Board of Inquiry (BOI) in its draft decision, would give the region a swimmable, fishable, healthy Tukituki.
Four Regional Councillors — Barker, Beaven, Belford and Graham — heartily endorse the BOI decision. We believe farmers and growers can meet its requirements and prosper, and that HBRC and our regional ag sector should start working toward that end.
However, five Regional Councillors (Dick, Hewitt, Pipe, Scott and Wilson), the council’s investment company (HBRIC), and senior managers have a different priority. They want a dam … at any cost. And they fear the strong environmental protections required by the BOI will quash the dam, whose prime purpose is to promote intensified farming.
And so, since the BOI decision was announced on 15 April, they have worked mightily to undermine it. HBRC/HBRIC leaders have played semantic games as to whether or not they wish to seek ‘technical’ clean-up of the decision, as the rules permit, or to pursue a more far-reaching agenda based upon their opposition to the tougher environmental regime.
First, the staff initiated a request for a Ministers’ delay in the final decision of the Board of Inquiry regarding its plan for the Tukituki. Councillors — four of whom were reluctant to seek a delay — were not given an opportunity to review the final request before it was sent. And as it turns out, the request unilaterally reversed the posture that had earlier been agreed to by Councillors.
The BOI itself made no request for a delay, and when asked to comment on the HBRC/HBRIC request, said it had “no position” on any extension, adding: “The Board notes that if an extension is granted it will still release its final decision as soon as is practicable before the time limit for that decision.” That sounds like a Board confident of its decision.
Nevertheless, Ministers Adams and Smith extended the review period by one month in a letter released on 14 May, officially communicating a decision surely known beforehand by HBRC’s dam team.
However, on May 14, for the first time (a full month after the BOI’s decision), Councillors (meeting along with Maori representatives as the Regional Planning Committee) received a staff paper critically assessing the BOI decision. Based upon the interrogation that occurred, the Committee rejected the staff analysis, and declined to receive it. But at no time during the debate did staff indicate that the Ministers’ delay had already been granted, on the basis of arguments made in then-rejected staff paper.
Then, last Friday, HBRC/HBRIC filed ‘technical’ objections with the Board regarding the BOI’s Tukituki protection plan. These expanded upon the staff assessment rejected two days earlier. HBRC Councillors did not see in advance, let alone approve, the HBRC submission. This action breaks all precedent when HBRC submits on matters before external authorities.
So on what authority are objections about Plan Change 6 being voiced to Ministers and the BOI?
We — Councillors Barker, Beaven, Belford, Graham — believe the HBRC submission has no authority whatsoever. We have indicated that to Ministers Adams and Smith, asking them to provide an opportunity for we Councillors to officially submit in support of the Plan Change.
Perhaps mistakenly, we thought we — not the staff — were elected to make such major policy decisions.
This behaviour by HBRC/HBRIC leaders, with its breaches of important Council due process, constitutes poor governance at best, or contempt of Councillors’ role and responsibilities at worst.
Either way, they will be challenged.
P.S. With the scheme’s remaining touted investor, Ngai Tahu, pulling out of the project yesterday, you might be interested in HBRIC chief executive Andrew Newman’s spin this morning on Radio NZ.