Councillors ‘kept out of the loop’ on river committee

A disgruntled Ashburton District councillor believes elected members were kept out of the loop around “important” conversations concerning the Rangitata Awa.

An update was provided to the council last week on the Rangitata Awa Restoration Project, where concerns were expressed on both the makeup and transparency of the associated working groups on the project.

The formation of the group last year was largely spurred by major flooding of the Canterbury river in December 2019 and the need for further engagement from iwi on future flood protection.

It was part of government-funded $2.7 million regional council work programme for work to mitigate flood risk, further investigations, and future and environmental enhancement works.

The steering group comprises of representatives from Te Runanga o Arowhenua, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Environment Canterbury (ECan), Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), and the Timaru and Ashburton District Councils.

Ashburton Ward councillor Angus McKay probed Ashburton District Council chief executive Hamish Riach as to why there had been no earlier report around the council’s involvement.

“I was bitterly disappointed that we, as elected officials, were not informed on such an important matter,” McKay said.

“To infer that elected members are not interested about the lifeblood of the water in this district, leaves me absolutely cold.”

Riach, the sole Ashburton representative on the steering group, highlighted that Ashburton representation came well after the formation of the group.

“It had already been established.

“There are all sorts of working groups, collaborations and joint work that does not necessarily always have the visibility of elected members.”

An offer to provide meeting minutes to the council was proposed by Riach so members could remain informed on progress.

Options to review the council’s input in both the Rangitata steering and working groups were tabled at the meeting, including an option to appoint an elected member.

Members opted to retain the status quo.

Riach added that any budgetary decisions involving possible contribution by the Ashburton District Council would also need to be formalised in chambers.

Eastern Ward councillor Lynette Lovett believed the farming community was a notably absent presence among the restoration program makeup.

“I think there should be a farming interest in this,” she said.

“Whatever this group is going to do it will affect all of the landowners down it (the Rangitata River).

“At the moment they do not have a voice on this committee … it’s vital that there is a voice for that fraternity in here.”

A council-led request for a relevant landowner representative on the groups was a possible course of action, Riach said.

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