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Coast Councils Take Government Deal

The four West Coast councils have voted to reluctantly receive Government's $120 million offer in lieu of native logging, but in a surprise move they have also voted to slice $28 million off the top for themselves. John Howard reports.

On Thursday and Friday the Buller, Grey, Westland and regional councils all voted to reluctantly receive the $120 million offer with just one dissenting vote in the Grey District.

Grey councillor Jacquie Grant said she would vote against the offer because it lacked details and provided no guarantees. The vote of the other councils was unanimous.

Grey District Mayor, Kevin Brown said, "It was the most important decision the council would ever make though it was only a two choice decision, to take the offer or leave it."

The Westland District Council resolved to receive the offer while "recording its strongest objection to the actions of the Government." Other councils expressed disappointment and called it a day of mourning.

Westland's Mayor, John Drylie described the process as a "black day" for the Government.

"They have failed to govern but have chosen simply to rule," he said.

Regional Council chairman, John Clayton said "There is no one out there on the streets waving placards around and saying thank you for the money. Instead it is a day of mourning,"

But in a surprise move all of the councils voted to slice $28 million off the top of the $120 million to be used as they see fit, leaving just $92 million to invest in job creation and economic development for the West Coast - the reason for the offer in the first place.

In taking the $28 million all the council's, in fact, opted to take more off the top of the package than the extra $20 million they added to it through lobbying for rates losses.

In a May 18 letter to the councils, signed by Finance Minister, Dr Michael Cullen and Deputy Prime Minister, Jim Anderton, the Government said: " A payment of between $5 million and $7 million (plus GST) will be made to each of the four West Coast local authorities (with the final amounts to be confirmed by the local authorities within that band) to be used as they see fit (including for infrastructure)."

The Government said that funding taken by councils would be a charge against the $120 million.

Later in the letter the Government said: " This payment can be made as soon as the Heads of Agreement confirming the package has been signed and the council's have confirmed the amount to be paid to them, within the agreed band."

Grey Distict councillor, Tony Kokshoorn said, " I feel that the wider public are going to see that (taking $28 million) as a raid on the $120 million even before we have the money."

On an informal basis, the regional council had discussed the package and had thought the $5 million on offer was a reasonable amount, but the Thursday decision by the Buller council to accept the the higher $7 million, saw it accepting the same amount.

The Buller District Council took just 20 minutes to resolve to take the $120 million and the $7 million for itself.

Grey and Westland, who both met on Friday, followed Buller's lead with Westland's meeting taking three hours after being moved from the council chambers to the larger Regent Theatre because 173 people turned up.

By comparison, at the regional council just 6 members of the public attended. Buller and Grey also had small numbers and did not allow speaking rights for the public, whereas Westland did.

With the councils slicing $28 million off the top of the $120 million only $92 million is left to invest.

This means that at an investment rate of 7% the extra $8 million for councils would have attracted $560,000 in interest per annum which could have been used to create more jobs.

No council has given solid guarantee's that the money taken will be used for immediate job creation.

Westland District, however, resolved that ; "It will give urgent consideration to the setting aside out of the said sum of $7 million such part as it considers appropriate for the purpose of enhancing, promoting and providing economic development within Westland District."

One submissioner at the Westland meeting said one third of the $7 million should be put aside by all councils to immediately create jobs while the region waits for the annual interest from the full amount. But no council appears to have accepted that.

The West Coast Times is reporting this morning that Westland identity and resident, Jim Keenan, raised concerns about the amount councils were taking out of the development package for their own coffers.

" What I'm worried about is why there is a need to reduce the $120 million capital by taking $7 million each.....why do they see a need to do that?" he said.

"I think most people here would consider that this money is surely to create employment and to promote projects that will enhance the districts," Mr Keenan said.

With the councils actions, it is very doubtful if the West Coast communities will take ownership of the decisions or the package.

Meanwhile, the Local Government and Environment select-committee, chaired by Green MP Jeanette Fitzsimmons, is to hear submissions on the West Coast over Government's decision to legislate the 1986 West Coast Accord commercial contract out of existence.

Just one day, July 13, has been allowed to hear submissions on the Coast. It is doubtful one day will be sufficient because submission forms, closing on June 19, are being circulated to all West Coast households and most of those are likely to want to be heard by the committee.

Coast Action Netowrk chairman, Barry Nicolle, said it was one of the shortest submissions periods on anything.

Even if the Government legislates the Accord out of existence it will still face legal problems because the original pre-election Labour Party offer to the Coast, if capitalised at 5% amounted to $123 million, and at 10% it would amount to $177 million.

The government has now offered just $120 million to the West Coast, far short of its own capitalised projections published last November.

On that basis, it is likely to buy a fight over the adequacy of its offer and effects of the true economic losses of its $120 million offer now.

Despite requests, the Government refuses to conduct a socio-economic impact study about the effects of its policies on the West Coast, councils claim it has failed to consult properly and it has denied the councils and Coast communities relevant information which they have requested.

The Government has also written to councils saying the $120 million is offered on the understanding that local authorities will not take, or provide financial support for, any legal action over the West Coast Accord or related issues.

Coasters are seriously questioning the legality of that requirement and whether the Government can oust the jurisdiction of the consitutionally independent courts and their rights to be heard.

The councils represent the people and councils cannot extinguish the people's rights without permission, Coasters are saying.

Downstream contractors also say they have not been consulted by Government either. It will not take much for them to react against the Government after the dust settles with the signing of the Heads of Agreement on 30 June.

Some Ngai Tahu Maori say they have also not been consulted properly.

© Scoop Media

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