Sunday, 28 February 2021

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Council split on timeframe for new vote on Climate Change Declaration

“Get on with it” was the message several members of Thames-Coromandel District Council delivered to the mayor, chief executive and some of their council colleagues in a debate over the response to a court ruling that their decision not to sign the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration was made unlawfully.

In April 2019, TCDC resolved not to approve Mayor Sandra Goudie signing the declaration. However, the High Court found that in making this decision, council had not carried out proper analysis or considered if there was a need for public consultation. The decision was therefore quashed and the elected members ordered to go back to the table and reconsider the matter, following the correct process.

However, frustration emerged at last Tuesday’s full council meeting when councillors were told it would be August before a report from staff recommending how to proceed further would be available. Thames councillor, Sally Christie, argued that the information should be supplied by April and was supported by her colleagues.

“I would have thought, in the scale of things that are happening, this is extremely important and staff can be shuffled around, this is top priority,” said South East councillor, Gary Gotlieb. Chief executive, Rob Williams, said the reason for the August date was because the work in preparing the report would be done by policy staff who were also largely responsible for the Long Term Plan consultation process which would run until June. Bringing the date forward would likely involve the use of external expertise at an additional cost at a time when questions were frequently asked about spending on consultants.

However, the revenue argument didn’t sit well with South Eastern councillor, Terry Walker. “We’ve challenged the judicial review and lost, $50,000 gone down the trap,” he said. “This is a priority. [The High Court] told us to do it, so let’s get on and do it before April… We spend money on a lot of things, but this is a good one to spend money on.”

The council voted 6 - 3 for the April deadline, requesting staff to compile a report that considers the strategic issues of climate change, as per the requirements of the Local Government Act and council’s own Significance and Engagement Policy. The members resolved to reconsider its decision to not authorise the mayor to sign the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration once that report has been received.

The mayor and the two Mercury Bay councillors, Murray McLean and Tony Fox, refused to support the amended resolution bringing the timeframe forward to April. Mr McClean said he did not believe there would be sufficient time to prepare what would need to be a substantial and strategic report, particularly given that the High Court judge had found that signing the declaration could create enforceable legal obligations on councils.

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