On Saturday, the DomPost published Marty Sharpe’s article, Councillors ‘hard of hearing, long-winded’. It revealed the previously withheld assessments of individual Councillors on the Regional Council’s Hearings Committee — Chairman Christine Scott, Eileen von Dadelszen, Ewan McGregor and Liz Remmerswaal — as evaluated by the HBRC’s own consultant (an experienced hearings commissioner) Brent Cowie.

Previously-released sections of the report, reviewed here and published here on BayBuzz, described a seriously flawed hearings process, sitting on top of a seriously deficient regional resource management plan. We were reassured by HBRC, of course, that the recommendations of the Cowie Report were “taken aboard” and being implemented.

But the further material published by the DomPost adds important personal performance context to the earlier analysis of procedure.

And in short, the picture painted is one of a sadly dysfunctional family — — pettiness, lack of respect and trust, under-achievers. Sounds like a Dilbert cartoon.

The problem is, this hearings committee is doling out our precious water, with serious environmental and economic consequences. Reading this report, how could any consent applicant — or the public — possibly have confidence that the regional council’s consenting process should be trusted?

The three senior members of the Hearings Committee have 30 years of Regional Council experience. Yet, as the report says, their process needs overhaul, they lack personal and professional confidence in one another, they make policy on the hoof, and the water allocation aspects of their resource management plan are so inadequate the report warns that the Council risks looking “incompetent”.

Thirty years of experience and Councillors Scott, von Dadelszen and McGregor still can’t get it right. In the private sector, after a performance review like this, this group would be sacked.

For me, this report raises the issue of whether Councillors have any business at all serving on hearings committees. Councillors are elected to make policy, not adjudicate benefits. It’s a confusion of roles and they lack the technical expertise. In the next term, HBRC must consider the option of using only independent hearings commissioners.

Tom Belford

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3 Comments

  1. The only problem with having independents is that they are even less accountable. In theory, Councillors can be "sacked" every 3 years – provided the public knows enough about their performance, and cares enough to sack them! The major concern, for me, as touched on, is that the allocation process of the Plan is "inadequate" (surely an understatement); it is this that the Crs/HBRC urgently need to redress – and that incumbents should be judged by.

  2. I couldn't stop laughing when I saw the report in the Dominion Post, can't say I'm surprised at any of the comments!

    Christine Scott has always being slightly dim and rumours have abounded for years that some people have even considered suicide in place of sitting through meetings chaired by her!

    The Regional Council in Hawkes Bay seems to be populated by and large by individuals who only claim to fame is giving weight to the term oxygen theives! Time for a change Hawkes Bay….

  3. I cannot let go unchallenged the article in the Dominion Post, Saturday, 4 September 2010 headlined ‘Councillors hard of hearing, long winded’.

    It quotes anecdotal and hearsay comments from a report commissioned to look at Resource Consent hearings processes (the Cowie Report), which was legitimately considered by the Council in Committee following its delivery to Council in September 2009.

    But clearly it has been leaked to the media now to create mischief leading up to the October local body elections.

    It is debateable whether any of the comments about personalities should have been in the report at all. Its purpose was to develop recommendations for process improvements, which were adopted by the Council and have been put into effect. The Council did not endorse or accept the comment made about personalities.

    Accordingly, I wish to confirm that I have full confidence in the Hearings Committee and its members, all of whom are qualified Hearings Commissioners.

    It is unfair to describe Cr Christine Scott’s chairing of the Committee as ‘cumbersome or long winded’. The Consents Hearings process is semi-judicial, the price of failure is costly challenges to decisions in the Environmental Court, and so processes must be rigorous and thorough. Cr Scott’s dedication, wide knowledge and attention to detail, makes her ideal for the position of Committee Chair.

    It is grossly unfair to imply that Cr Ewan McGregor ‘does not contribute strongly’ and is ‘hard of hearing’. Certainly he has a hearing aid to compensate for some hearing loss, but as a Hearings Commissioner and as a Councillor, he is hard working, highly experienced in governance and uses his great endowment of common sense to make very sound decisions.

    It is not fair to state that Cr Remmerswaal ‘does not have the full confidence of the Chair’. This is one matter that was remedied by the Council with the Chairman (Cr Scott) advising that Cr Remmerswaal did have her confidence. It is important, too, that Committee members bring their different perspectives to bear in order to make good decisions, which reflect different community aspirations. Cr Remmerswaal does have a strong commitment to the environment and wide community connections, which complement the balance of views in the Committee.

    Cr von Dadelszen is a valuable member of the Committee being widely experienced, a professionally qualified resource management planner and, contrary to the report’s assertion, does work well professionally with Cr Scott.

    Finally, in terms of personalities, the Council does not employ its Chief Executive or myself, for that matter, to spend time being spectators in Consent Hearings. We have other things to do and have confidence that our professional staff and Councillors responsible for hearings will do their jobs competently without having to be watched over.

    The true measure of the Council’s Hearings Committee is that it has successfully processed a high amount of consents work. In all, 369 resource consents encompassing a wide variety of activities have been deliberated on over the term of this Council.

    Despite a number of these decisions being appealed to the Environment Court, not one decision has been successfully overturned.

    This is a clear indication that the Hearings Committee is making thorough and lawful decisions which strike the right balance for the community. As well, this has been done on a cost effective basis avoiding the considerable cost to ratepayers and consent applicants of defending decisions in the Environment Court.

    Group Manager Resource Management, Darryl Lew, has informed Council that the majority of the notified consents were for water takes, and that the latest Ministry for the Environment survey confirms that hearing costs to Hawke’s Bay applicants are below the national median and cheaper than most other Regional Councils.

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