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Councillors in South Wairarapa on Wednesday approved decision-making measures to prepare for a covid-19 “worst case scenario”.

Rules are now in place to help the district’s essential services continue and stop the spread of the pandemic in the area.

In a short meeting at Martinborough Town Hall on Wednesday, the council voted unanimously on staff recommendations to form an emergency committee, and give additional emergency delegations to the chief executive Harry Wilson, and for succession planning if Wilson is unable to carry out his duties.

The committee has been formed to ensure legislation is met should councillors not be able to hold or host collective meetings.

Wilson would now be free to authorise contracts and spend money to combat the spread of the virus in the district without a full council vote.

“These are extraordinary measures in extraordinary times” and “council has a duty to residents to make sure that essential services are not compromised”, he said.

Measures were already in place in Carterton district to enable emergency delegations.

Masterton district councillors held a behind closed doors meeting on Tuesday to arrange similar measures.

From yesterday, until the national pandemic response level returns to Level 2, only two SWDC councillors will be required to be physically at a meeting for a quorum to make the vote valid.

A quorum was previously five members, who all had to be present at the meeting.

New Zealand entered Level 4, the most severe of the government’s pandemic response restrictions, at midnight Wednesday night, and a state of emergency was announced on Wednesday.

Decisions on the response to the outbreak and maintaining essential services can now be made by a two-person emergency committee, which can be made up of any members of the council.

Councillors can vote by phone or video, but only a minimum number need be physically present at the meeting.

In a quick debate in an empty, echoing town hall, councillors considered the numbers required for decisions to be approved.

Councillor Alistair Plimmer said the measures needed to be practical and that SWDC needed to prepare for a “worst case scenario” where most representatives would not be able to physically attend key meetings.

“This situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” the Greytown ward councillor said.

“We cannot put barriers up in place for prudent financial decisions. We’d be doing a disservice.

“We have to act for a worst-case scenario, not a possible scenario.”

Councillors Pip Maynard, Brian Jephson and Garrick Emms did not attend in person but were able to vote by phone. Ross Vickery sent apologies.

Social distancing was practised by all members and staff.

The changes went through as a Local Government commission response team seeks to push through amendments to legislation to allow meetings and voting to go online completely.

All SWDC committee meetings scheduled before the end of April have been cancelled.

As all council venues are now closed to the public, SWDC is aiming to fast-track work on tele- or video-conferencing for future meetings.

Full SWDC council meetings are set for April 2 and 29, with the proviso that they may be led by a delegated committee and public attendance is subject to covid-19 alert levels.