Otago Daily Times

No water panel positions for regional councillor­s

- MOLLY HOUSEMAN molly.houseman@odt.co.nz

OTAGO regional councillor­s do not want to be considered as candidates for a panel that will hear submission­s on freshwater planning for its upcoming regional policy statement.

Councillor­s made the unanimous decision to exclude themselves as nominees for the hearings panel during the regional council’s strategy and planning committee meeting yesterday.

The council is required to nominate two people to sit, hear and provide recommenda­tions on the proposed policy statement, but Cr Andrew Noone said it was important the process was ‘‘clean’’ and above criticism from the public.

‘‘I will not be putting my hand up for any role, as an elected member, sitting as a commission­er,’’ he said.

Cr Michael Laws said there were ‘‘obvious conflicts of interest’’ if councillor­s took on a commission­er roles.

Councillor­s’ conflicts of interest were an issue at the council last year.

In February last year, a paper on water plan changes was withdrawn from the council’s meeting agenda due to potential conflicts of interest.

Crs Kate Wilson and Gary Kelliher, who are farmers, were later deemed unable to vote on changes the council was considerin­g regarding the issue of water permits in March.

In a report presented to councillor­s during yesterday’s meeting, staff said undeclared conflicts of interest would make someone unsuitable as a commission­er for the freshwater hearing panel.

The council delayed notifying its regional policy statement — which sets the direction for the future management of Otago’s natural and physical resources — to June this year, following last year’s release of new national freshwater standards.

The new freshwater hearings panel should have five members, including the two members nominated by the regional council, the report to councillor­s said.

One person with an understand­ing of tikanga Maori and matauranga Maori who was nominated by the local tangata whenua would also be included, and two freshwater commission­ers.

Staff will outline the process of appointing commission­ers during a full council meeting on February 24.

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