Investment debate hits turbulence

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Cr Dick Davison

By ROBYN BRISTOW

The debate over investing $500,000 in the Hurunui Water Project (HWP) continued its tortuous journey at the Hurunui District Council last week.

A formal complaint from He Tangata, a group opposing the investment, called for the chairman Cr Dick Davison to be sacked as chairman of HWP proceedings.

It was considered by council, but failed to gain support around the council table.

Most councillors backed a vote of confidence in his chairmanship, with Cr Julia McLean abstaining.

Mayor Winton Dalley, Cr Marie Black and Cr Nicky Anderson were not part of the discussion, having left the chamber due to conflicts of interest – Mr Dalley and Cr Black have shares in HWP and Cr Anderson has an interest in Amuri Irrigation.

But the debate on the chairmanship, which challenged Cr Davison’s role in the consultation and decision-making process and called for him to be removed and recused from any further involvement, may not yet be over.

He Tangata, in a statement to the North Canterbury News after the meeting, said it was disappointed the council decided to “overlook Cr Davison’s clear bias” around the project and to retain him as chairman.

“We are still awaiting a response from the CEO, Hamish Dobbie, regarding the points we raised in our formal complaint and, upon receiving his response, will decide on our course of action.

“More broadly, we are very concerned that in his report tabled to yesterday’s (Thursday, April 26) council meeting, CEO Dobbie again raised the potential for HWP water to supplement council water schemes as a fundamental benefit of the investment.

“This despite the fact, forcefully made by Cr Fletcher at [the] meeting, that the investment is for dry shares only and has no right to water attached to it.”

“The community was clearly sold on an investment that secures drinking water for the
district.
“As such, we believe that the entire `consultation process’ was flawed – residents and
ratepayers were led to believe that they are investing in something very different to
what the current deal suggests and, as such, we believe the entire consultation process
falls far short of the legal requirements.”

He Tangata also expressed concern councillors were being asked to make a decision without access to what due diligence had taken place on the $500,000 share purchase.

“The lack of transparency, combined with the absence of council receiving independent
advice on the potential purchase, is a fundamental concern that we have in the council’s process,” it said.

It also called on the council to “investigate with urgency, concerns that the consultation
process had been irreparably affected by the role of chair and facilitator who displayed
a clear bias through the process”.

Cr Fiona Harris chaired the discussion on the formal complaint, with Cr Davison removing himself from the table.

Council chief executive Hamish Dobbie, in a report, said Cr Davison had told councillors he had previously been a shareholder in Amuri Irrigation Company, but he had ceased being a
shareholder when he sold his farm.

Cr Davison also disclosed he was a trustee, appointed by the Christchurch City and Selwyn District Councils, of the Central Plains Trust, which held the consents relied on by the Central Plains Water Scheme and took advice from the chief executive before accepting the role.

Cr Jason Fletcher said it was not always possible, when entering into any conversation
about any possible subject around the table, not to have an interest. Cr Fletcher said if he personally had a clear conflict of interest he always ensured he announced it.

Other issues he approached with an open mind and to the best of his ability, making a decision based on what was best for the district.

As an example of having to declare a conflict of interest, he said, he should not have
any discussion on alcohol or dogs because he owned a dog and used to be a publican.

If Cr Davison had been guilty of anything, it had been allowing submitters too much
time at the hearing.

“I think if anyone else had been in the chair, potentially submitters would have been shut down a lot quicker and questions would not have been asked of members. That was
his only fault,” he said.

Cr Michael Ward said while Cr Davison’s chairmanship “sailed close to the wind”, he had accepted him for the job because he gave a clear indication he could enter into it with a clear and open mind.

“I would not question his impartiality,” he said.

Cr Geoff Shier said Cr Davison had been clear about his experience, and his role as a trustee in the Central Plains Trust had been misunderstood.