Mayor suggests three councils for Wellington

  • 04/12/2014

It's not surprising Hutt City Mayor Ray Wallace, who could find himself out of a job if Wellington follows Auckland and becomes a super city, is opposed to merging the region's nine councils.

But he says residents of Wellington, the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa have watched what's happened in Auckland over the last few years, and don't want it.

"The very vast majority of this region – 75 percent – have said keeping local democracy in place is absolutely crucial," Mr Wallace said on Firstline this morning.

"The recent polls we undertook… showed that they really support having that local democracy, the local decision-making and really having some power over the future of their own communities."

The Local Government Commission's proposal, released yesterday, would halve the number of local politicians to 82 – one Mayor, 21 Councillors and 60 local board members.

Despite this, and the efficiencies a super council could bring, Mr Wallace instead expects the majority of people to face higher rates for less say in how their community is run.

"Auckland's already gone through a lot of this. We're talking to a lot of the people up there – the Cameron Brewers, Dick Quax, those Councillors that are right in the thick of it – the local community and ward boards up there. They're telling us there are some real concerns and people are feeling disaffected by it."

If it goes to a region-wide vote, Mr Wallace doubts the current super capital proposal would win approval. Instead, he says if the commission really wants to reduce the number of councils, it should consider a three-city structure – Wellington-Porirua-Kapiti, Wairarapa and his own Hutt Valley.

"If the commission was hell-bent on putting in a model, rather than the Auckland super city model we believe that a three-council proposal across the region was something that people could possibly accept.

"We've heard from three commissioners on what they think's best, but the 400,000 people in the Wellington region will get a vote on this."

Local Government New Zealand, which represents the interests of local government and shouldn't be confused with the Local Government Commission, says it doesn't have an opinion on council amalgamations.

"What it has a view on is to make sure that communities are comfortable with whatever proposal is put before them and will vote on it, and to make sure that the challenges that we face as a nation mean that we've got fit-for-purpose structures, whatever they may be," says president Lawrence Yule, who is also Mayor of Hastings.

He agrees with Mr Wallace in that if the people don't want a single council, it won't happen.

"Ultimately there'll end up being a vote across the population, so while it's a draft at this stage and while it's the view of the Local Government Commission, it can't actually fly unless the residents of that whole region think it's a good idea."

Mr Yule says it's difficult to use Auckland as a model for the Wellington region.

"The super city in Auckland is unique; it's the largest city council in Australasia and it's got 1.4 million people, so to compare it with anything else is not necessarily that helpful."

However, a local government specialist says there are advantages and disadvantages to merging Wellington region's nine councils.

PricewaterhouseCoopers director David Walker says the proposal could lead to more efficient decision-making and better management of infrastructure.

For example, Auckland's move to an amalgamated council has led to improved service levels, particularly for smaller districts that had less to invest in upgrading infrastructure.

Mr Walker said before Auckland became a super city, the Franklin and Rodney districts had lower drinking water quality than the metropolitan areas. The merger allowed upgrades to occur, he said.

Having one Greater Wellington council would also remove many executive and senior managerial positions as there would only be one chief executive, or chief financial officer, rather than nine of each. Mr Walker said most staff would likely be rehired to continue the day-to-day operations.

However, a merged council could also lead to problems staying connected with communities such as Carterton and Masterton. Creating a local board could prevent this, but the concept is still relatively new.

"This model is good but its success is measured by its execution," said Mr Walker.

The role of the board and its responsibilities also needs to be worked out, with the commission recommending management of waste, recycling and recreation facilities come under the local body.

Mr Wallace says many of these services are already combined, and throwing it out to start again with a single council could see efficiencies lost.

"Wellington is a different region: we work collaboratively together already, there's been a lot of savings, a lot of real positive things. What this proposal has really announced will put a lot of that good work on the back burner, or [we could] potentially lose those gains."

Mr Walker said a regional strategy managing those services would probably work better than having them under the auspices of a networked council.

Residents have until March to make submissions on the proposal.

NZN / 3 News

source: newshub archive