By Peter Scott, chair of Environment Canterbury
As the election approaches, I encourage all candidates and political parties to think about the Aotearoa New Zealand that lies beyond Lambton Quay and Queen Street.
While you compete for office space in the Beehive, consider Waitaha Canterbury and everything we have to offer.
We are one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the country, and with mana whenua we’re responding to government direction to deliver better environmental outcomes.
Our two ports provide opportunities for trade and are important assets, especially in the face of natural disasters.
We have world-leading innovative industries and tertiary institutions, and can meet any demand for food production if and when needed.
Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) needs a strong relationship with central government to deliver good outcomes for our community and the environment. We’ve proven ourselves, time and again, in the face of short timeframes, significant changes, and unprecedented natural disasters.
However, the pressures and challenges are immense. The scale of rates rises across the country shows the burden ratepayers are having to bear so that we can deliver what central government expects from us. I ask you to be mindful of this as you set policies and make election promises.
That’s why I’m writing this letter. I don’t want to see government action (or inaction) forcing us to compromise our community and our environment.
I want the new government – whatever makeup it might be by the end of October – to seriously consider the following priorities for our region.
• Recognise the role of regional government
The new government needs to co-ordinate with regional councils so that we can deliver our statutory obligations. We need you to make clear decisions and give us realistic timelines and adequate resources.
Uncertainty has knock-on effects and puts even more pressure on us.
Canterbury isn’t getting a fair go when we look at how funding is allocated nationally. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the resources and time we need to meet our obligations, without unfairly impacting our ratepayers.
We’re not the only regional council experiencing these challenges. However, it’s my job as the chair of Canterbury Regional Council to speak on behalf of Canterbury ratepayers.
• Flood resilience and adaptation to climate change
The past year has been another unfortunate reminder that Aotearoa New Zealand needs to prioritise flood resilience and protection.
A future government needs to consider rivers and flood protection as primary infrastructure so that we can be adequately resourced to manage them effectively.
Regional councils invest millions to keep rivers out of backyards, off farms and away from vulnerable national infrastructure. Climate change is exacerbating all the risks we face in this area.
Canterbury’s unique braided rivers with wide riverbeds and massive variation in flow add extra complexity.
Simply put, setting up and maintaining flood protection for the future is increasingly expensive and complex. I recognise the co-investment we’ve received from the government to date.
However, it doesn’t go far enough – we need an ongoing commitment to future-proof the region. No one wins if we bankrupt the country or the region trying to recover from more frequent and more severe flooding events.
• Sustained investment in biodiversity and pest management
Biodiversity enhancement and pest management would be our biggest problem if we didn’t keep getting flooded.
We’ve been working to get on top of, and stay on top of, a range of pests including wallabies, wilding pines and other pests that are killing our native wildlife.
These threaten our native species and biodiversity, our cultural identity, and our economy. In the past we’ve worked in partnership and received government support for pest management, but it has been scattered and project-based.
Funding needs to be sustained and focused, otherwise we’ll end up wasting the investment and progress that have been made to date. We know what we’re doing, we just need the resources to do it.
• Planning and investment for public transport
Public transport in Canterbury is about more than just buses – it’s about total mobility access, community cars, inter-regional travel, and transport systems that can enable localism.
Together, we need to think about public transport holistically and understand how it can shape and grow our region and economy and reduce emissions.
We have made significant investment to improve access, simplify and reduce fares, and to collaboratively plan for the future. However, we still have a way to go. What we need is for future governments to trust us, and to keep up the investment, so we can continue transforming our region for the better.
Canterbury has the potential to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing Aotearoa NZ. And we need some positive and pragmatic change – now – to ensure a sustainable future.
We want to hear from all candidates, especially our local candidates, and political parties who see themselves being part of the next government. If you’re keen to get stuck in and do some mahi alongside us, give me a call and let’s chat.
Ngā mihi nui