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Policy panel should be democratically elected

May 30, 2008

MEDIA STATEMENT

Environment Canterbury key policy panel should be democratically elected councillors – legal opinion confirms

At this week’s Environment Canterbury meeting councillors discussed calls from some submitters for independent commissioners to replace councillors on a significant planning policy hearing panel.

This panel was appointed to hear submissions and recommend to Council upon proposed Change 1 to the regional council’s Canterbury Regional Policy Statement (RPS), arising out of the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy (UDS).

The RPS, a key planning document, integrates management of a region’s resources. Proposed Change 1 is designed to ensure the RPS is consistent with the aims of the UDS which was finalised last year.

Council appointed councillors to hear submissions on the RPS proposed Change 1. While many submitters supported this approach, some submitters sought independent commissioners to replace councillors on the grounds of potential bias from councillors’ prior involvement in the UDS process.

ECan sought the advice of eminent lawyers Professor Philip Joseph of the University of Canterbury’s Law School and Dr Gerard McCoy QC for a legal opinion on membership of hearing panels for council policy.

Their legal opinion notes: “The statutory context for local authority decision-making excludes the rules for apparent bias. The statutory “roadmap” makes local authorities – which must propose and dispose – interested parties in the decision-making. Under the RMA, the Council must formulate any changes to its RPS, call for and consider submissions on its proposal, and make a final decision.”

It reiterates that Council is under no obligation to appoint independent commissioners to hear and recommend on submitters’ concerns and that Council must not “renounce the exercise of its statutory functions for which it was democratically elected.”

It also noted that the panel members should not stand aside for the full Council’s final deliberations and decision on the proposed change. Sidelining a number of councillors like this could skew the political balance of the Council, contrary to its democratic mandate.

The Council confirmed that the hearing panel would consist of Crs Jo Kane, Eugenie Sage and David Sutherland, with Cr Kane as chair. They will hear and recommend decisions on submissions to proposed Change 1 to the Regional Policy Statement, likely to be from July 4, 2008.

The Council also resolved to make public the legal opinion, including placing it on the Environment Canterbury website.

--

Background on the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and relationship to the Regional Policy Statement proposed Change 1 :

The proposed changes to the Regional Policy Statement and Environment Canterbury’s Natural Resources Regional Plan were released mid last year, July 26. See:
www.ecan.govt.nz/About+Us/DisplayMediaRelease.html?id=944

Or for web information and recent background:
www.ecan.govt.nz/Plans+and+Reports/RegionalPolicyStatement/
rpsProposedChange1.htm

For timetable details and a recent letter to submitters:
www.ecan.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/88130820-B31E-4007-A5CE-E484CA5DE234/0/
LettertoSubmitters1MayHearingPanelProcessDecisionTrackChangesAccepted.pdf

ECan has responsibility for preparing and updating the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement. Proposed Change 1 introduces a new Chapter 12A, (Development of Greater Christchurch) which sets out the land use distribution, particularly the areas available for urban development, the household densities for various areas and other key components for consolidated and integrated urban development and that land which is to remain rural for resource protection and enhancement and other reasons. The proposed Change includes maps defining areas for development and applies to Christchurch City (including the Lyttelton Harbour basin but excluding eastern Banks Peninsula) and the eastern parts of Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts.


ENDS

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