'Broken local government system' blamed for scrapping of Tasman dam project

Kaitlin Ruddock
Source: 1News

Should local councillors make the final decision on big infrastructure projects?

"No" is the firm answer from those in the Tasman District who wanted the Waimea Community Dam built.

After 17 years in the making, the $102 million project was ditched yesterday. The majority of councillors believing its escalating costs were unaffordable to ratepayers .

The Nelson Tasman region is the second largest producer of apples and berries in the country.

Without a dam, new council rules will require urban and rural water users on the Waimea Plains to significantly cut back water use during dry periods until another solution is found.

With millions of dollars at stake, irrigators say deciding on big projects, like the dam, is too big a responsibility for local councils.

"Unfortunately our local government system is broken in New Zealand," explains Wai-West Horticulture Director Julian Raine.

"Because not only is it happening in Tasman, it's actually facing a number of regional, district and unitary authorities around New Zealand."

Despite being against damming rivers, freshwater scientist Dr Mike Joy agrees.

"I don't think the big scale things should be made by local councils, they have a vested interest in it they're so politically influenced by what's happening around them."

Dr Joy says these big decisions should be made by a board of inquiry or the Environmental Protection Authority.
But the best option, he says, is to think small.

"If you spread the money they were going to spend on a big dam out amongst small projects around the community you'll get much more resilience and value for your dollar," he says.

However, Local Government New Zealand says councillors are "precisely" the right people to make the call. They have the technical advice and represent the people who have to pay for it.

"If the promoters of a project have not been able to convince a council to expend ratepayer monies on it, that will reflect the attributes of a project," says Local Government President Dave Cull.

And if voters don't agree with their local representatives, they can have their say at election time.