Wednesday, December 6, 2023

New ECan boss keen to meet farmers

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There are challenges ahead but opportunities too for the new fully elected Canterbury Regional Council as it takes up the reins for the next three years, new chairwoman Jenny Hughey says.
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The council, also known as Environment Canterbury and ECan, has been a transitional council, moving from the era of government-appointed commissioners in 2010 to the return of a fully democratically elected council.

“I feel privileged to be elected to lead council and firmly believe governance of Canterbury is not a matter of town or country.

“It’s not a blame game, it’s about everyone living collaboratively and I believe people are up for that. 

“I don’t think there’s a rural-urban divide or a them and us.”

Hughey, a lawyer in human rights and a first-timer on the council is confident her mediation skills will be an attribute she brings to her leadership. 

She has also worked for the past 11 years as a senior manager with Christchurch City Council and is co-chairwoman of the Community Law Centre of Aotearoa.

What does she know about farming?

“I am not a farmer but I come from a farming family. I grew up in Cheviot so I have lived in a rural community.

“I know about eeling in the rivers, I know a lot about river beds and I have ridden horses over the hills – I live on a 10 hectare lifestyle block with six horses, five sheep and a few chooks.

“I very much love farming and the rural environment and I want farmers to prosper.

“I have made my living in a city but I remain very connected to rural life. 

“I’m a bit divorced from how farms run today so very keen to get back on-farm, meet with farmers and engage.”

It will be a case of taking it slowly over the next three years.

“Council has done a very solid job and we need to build on that now, not make huge changes.

“We have a talented and diverse range of councillors and with a great range of ages who are passionate about democracy.

“We haven’t looked after the land sufficiently and we are all in this together in partnerships with all walks and sectors of the community to try and fix nature and our relationship with it.”

Hughey said her drive will be developing a culture in which everyone respects each other.

“We have hard work ahead of us to develop a culture where we debate hard and discuss hard, get on and do it together to get solutions and achieve results.

“We will work in partnership with farmers to further develop ecologically sustainable solutions, something farmers are doing a lot of already.”

Mixed cropping farmer Peter Scott, representing South Canterbury, was elected deputy chairman and is one of four farmers on the 14-strong council.

He was part of the transitional council, on which he also served as deputy chairman.

With 10 new members the first challenge for councillors is to get to know each other.

“We need to allow everyone space to do their thing and have their voice heard.

“I think we have got some big issues that are worrying new councillors who want to fully understand as we get into the work as a council for the next three years.

“I am happy with where ECan has got to over the past three years and it is now about getting those plans working without beating up communities.” 

Scott acknowledged the freshwater reforms are a bit frightening.

“But I believe ECan is in a good space on that and what (Environment) Minister (David) Parker is looking for around the country we are already well down the track in Canterbury and with about 100 scientists in the building we are well represented to provide the scientific data he requires.”

As for climate change Scott said the council needs firstly to unpack all the stuff so it understands it all and secondly so it can be delivered to communities.

“Nitrates are a whole issue and looking at what our plans actually offer and what opportunities there are for farmers through extension and research and how we can help farmers is a path we need to pursue.

“We need to create understanding on issues we are shining the lights on, emphasising it’s generational change not overnight change.

“People will expect council to work harder and faster on the plans we do have in place now we are a fully elected council.”  

Scott believes the council had to go through the past 10 years to get where it is now.

“The next three years will be really important for everybody that we fully understand what we do.

“I don’t know that we are there yet but we will get there. It’s early days yet but very positive.”

Re-elected Leeston dairy farmer John Sunckell, newly elected Eiffelton mixed cropping farmer Ian Mackenzie and fellow new councillor Claire McKay, a dairy farmer from Oxford, make up the four farmer representatives at the council table.  

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