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‘What’s Your Issue?’ Sacked Council Chair Accused Of Double Standard

Former West Coast Regional Council chair Allan Birchfield has been openly accused of double standards in a testy exchange during a meeting.

For months councillor Birchfield has been alleging West Coast iwi are charging to give affected parties cultural information for resource consent applications.

Cr Birchfield, a gold miner, was sacked as chair by his council in April 2023.

Last week he emailed council management demanding his concern about iwi clipping the ticket on resource consent applications be aired at the full council meeting on June 4.

Cr Birchfield said he believed Te Rununga o Ngati Waewae was charging applicants "for consultation and written approval for a consent application".

He wanted to know if council had legitimised the practice.

Cr Birchfield in the email sought discussion "in a polite and professional manner".

However, the debate became heated on Tuesday 05 June.

Te Rununga o Ngati Waewae chairman Francois Tumahai called on Cr Birchfield to "cut to the chase" about what really concerned him about iwi involvement.

"What's your issue? What you are saying is you are quite happy for your resource consents to be paid for by other consultants but not Māori?

"Stop wasting everyone's time and say … come out with it mate. What is your problem?"

Cr Birchfield said he was concerned at the extra cost for applicants.

Mr Tumahai said the rūnanga's Arahura Holdings administration arm would continue to do business as normal by invoicing applicants seeking information from them.

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He said they had an interest in facilitating the mining industry in particular.

"I don't understand where you are coming from. You need the information. Sounds like you want us to do it for nothing."

Cr Birchfield repeated his opposition to any extra cost on West Coasters "trying to create jobs".

Cr Frank Dooley accused Cr Birchfield of operating a double standard.

He said Birchfield's mining company still owed over $180,000 to council's business arm VCS for consent fees it sought back in 2016-17 on behalf of Birchfield's controversial Grey Valley Dredge. 

VCS undertook the consent on condition it would claw back the fee once the dredge was sold.

However, Cr Birchfield said he did not owe the council any money.

"Let's be quite clear, when you go back to the agreement: there was no agreement to pay the council."

On June 4, council staff tabled 20 consent applications dating back to 2019 awaiting affected party sign off involving West Coast iwi.

Iwi had signed off 18 but the rest were still awaiting "other affected parties".

Council chief executive Darryl Lew said consent applicants were directed to various affected parties, including iwi, on a case-by-case basis.

"From that point on, it's up to the applicant to deal with those entities. That's not our business to get affected party written approval," he said.

"Any financial transactions are between the applicant and the affected party," Mr Lew said.

Cr Birchfield said he believed "quite a number of invoices" were going out.

Mr Lew said they were not from council.

Cr Birchfield then asked for a list of "all consents" signed off by Ngati Waewae.

Mr Lew said that would be extensive given the Resource Management Act was enacted in 1991.

Cr Frank Dooley said it was not the role of councillors to delve into management.

However, acting chairman Brett Cummings said ratepayers could ask councillors for information "and hand it back".

Cr Dooley said that might be so, but Cr Birchfield's question line was "not specific".

Mr Lew pointed out Cr Birchfield had previously raised "that consents have been held up by iwi".

"That is not the case … The 20 consents in the table clearly demonstrate 18 are not being held up by iwi," he said.

Cr Dooley raised the simmering tension of Cr Birchfield's own mine business still owing council for an unpaid consent process. Cr Dooley said he would like Cr Birchfield to pay: "Be honorable."

At this point Cr Cummings shut down the debate.

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