Decision about Councillor Wilson's application

Our view about Cr Wilson’s financial interest in the decisions

Cr Wilson’s application states that she and her husband own a sheep and beef farm of approximately 960 hectares through a company, Strathburn Limited. Cr Wilson and her husband are directors of Strathburn Limited, and the shareholders are all members of the Wilson family, together with a family trust.

The Water Permit Plan Change (WPPC) and Cr Wilson

According to the application Strathburn Limited holds a water permit on an unnamed tributary of Rock Creek 98462 for up to 26 litres per second. The permit is up for renewal in May 2020. Strathburn Limited, together with a number of other farms in the region, is currently working through the renewal of consents together.

Through Strathburn Limited, Cr Wilson is deemed to have a financial interest in the WPPC. She is prohibited from participating in the decision, unless we grant her a declaration.

The Omnibus Plan Change and Cr Wilson

Dairy farmers are the farmers most affected by the Omnibus Plan Change, and Cr Wilson is not a dairy farmer. She does, however, winter graze cattle.

Cr Wilson’s application stated that she will not need to put in additional fencing or alter her farming practice in any way, because she does not winter graze cattle near waterways and cattle do not have access to waterways in winter.
While she and her husband do winter graze cattle, they do not do so intensively. Cr Wilson submitted that she will not suffer any financial loss as a result of the Omnibus Plan Change as she will not need to apply for the type of consent proposed for intensive winter grazing.

Cr Wilson submitted that any financial interest she has in the Omnibus Plan Change is “de minimis” as the farm is not intensively grazed over winter, and she and her husband do not anticipate that the farm will ever be intensively grazed over winter. She advised that this is not part of the family’s short or long-term planning for the farm, so she is “highly unlikely” to turn her mind to her own farm when discussing and voting on the Omnibus Plan Change.

Based on the information provided, we are satisfied that Cr Wilson has no reasonable expectation of financial gain or loss from the Omnibus Plan Change. Because of our view that she has no financial interest in the Omnibus Plan decision, she does not need an exemption to participate in the decision.

Decision not to grant a declaration in respect of the Water Permit Plan Change

Cr Wilson submits that we should grant a declaration on the basis that it would be in the interests of the electors or inhabitants of the area that the non-participation rule should not apply, for two reasons:

  • her Molyneux constituents will not be adequately represented if she cannot participate; and
  • her special expertise will not otherwise be before the Council table, as it is not held by the other councillors.

Cr Wilson’s application states that she:

  • Is one of two councillors elected in the Molyneux constituency.
  • Has lived in the Otago Region almost all of her life, and has spent half her life in the Strath Taieri.
  • Has twelve years’ experience as a Dunedin City Councillor, serving as a Chair of a number of committees. She is a chairs-endorsed certified resource consent commissioner.
  • Holds degrees in law and geography.
  • Has practised as a planner with Lands and Survey and as a lawyer in Timaru and Dunedin, and says she has used her learning from this in many community roles, including being a founding trustee of the Taieri Trust and the Upper Taieri Water catchment group.
  • Has attended a large number of forums led by both catchment groups and the Council.
  • Is familiar with and attuned to her community’s needs, wants and expectations. While there is another councillor in the Molyneux constituency, Cr Wilson says that the other councillor does not have a broad understanding of irrigation matters and therefore cannot as effectively represent those residents of the area that do have irrigation.
  • Has a broad understanding that has come not only from being an irrigator, but being charged as a community politician at community board and councillor level to look at options for potential irrigation improvements for an area that at times has been crippled by drought.
  • Is someone who has been talking to the Council for a long time about water, and is able to give input as to the changes in focus and consideration of processes over the last 25 years as the region works toward 2021.
  • Understands the huge diversity of water systems and factors that can have an effect on quality and quantity of water in different catchments.
  • Is well aware of the importance of working with communities to ensure maximising community buy in to regulations, non-regulatory opportunities and collaboration. For example, as a trustee (16 years) and current chair (6 years) of the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, she has worked collaboratively with communities across the region and other cycle groups.

Given the above, Cr Wilson’s view is that it is in the interests of the inhabitants of the Otago region for her to participate in decisions about water. The WPPC is one of a number of measures that will lay the foundation for the region’s long-term compliance with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. The short-term measures that will be put in place for water permits will be important and will impact on a large number of residents throughout the region.

We appreciate that Cr Wilson has experience and knowledge of the matters covered by the WPPC. However, we are not satisfied that the statutory ground for granting a declaration is made out in this instance. We don’t have enough information to be satisfied that the constituents of Molyneux will not be adequately represented by the other Molyneux councillor, or that the Council won’t have enough experience and knowledge around the Council table if Cr Wilson cannot participate. We were provided with additional emails from councillors giving support for Cr Wilson participating in the WPPC. However that support has not altered our overall conclusion on the appropriate application of the legislation.

The other ground in the Act for granting a declaration is that the application of the non-participation rule would impede the transaction of business by the Council. Cr Wilson did not submit that this ground was met. We agree that this ground is not met here; the Council will still be quorate even though two councillors will be unable to participate due to having a financial interest in the decision. We do not think that the application of the rule could unduly distort the way in which the Council deals with the decision.

For these reasons, and on the basis of the information provided, we decline to grant Cr Wilson’s application for a declaration in respect of the Water Permit Plan Change decision.