There has been speculation in various media about what could/will/might happen to our local government structures across the Wellington region.
Some of it has been on the mark, but some either confused or incorrect.
The situation is this.
The Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill received its third reading in Parliament last week. Once it receives the Royal assent, it will usher in significant change to the way councils go about their business in future. It also opens the door to possible significant change in the structure of Local Government, especially in our region.
Changes to ‘Social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being’
In the past councils have had to take into account “social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being” issues. These responsibilities have been replaced by the reference to “interests.”
We have already been asked what this means? The simple answer is, we don’t know at this stage. The amendment defines the meaning of “good quality services” but there is no comparable definition for what is meant by “interests”. The last thing any council wants is to end up in court as a result of a challenge over what this term means in practice.
The amendment also defines a new “purpose” which is to “meet the current and future needs of communities for good quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses”. What the term “most cost-effective” actually means in reality, only time will tell.
That is one side of the coin. The other concerns possible changes to local government structures.
The real issue
The issue is this. The amendment passed by Parliament last week makes it easier for any person or body to trigger a review of a local government structure in a particular area or region. The Local Government Commission must consider a proposal if it is deemed to be reasonable.
A referendum on the proposal can be triggered if 10% or more of the electors in any one of the affected areas calls for one. This means several hundred electors in Carterton can trigger a referendum to be held right across the Wellington Region.
The Amendment lists the type of proposals that can be considered. In the context of the Wellington Region, we could have one tier or two tier councils. Any Council could have Community Boards. If an area has 400,000 residents (or will have in five years time) and is predominately urban in character, then it could follow the Auckland super city model and establish Local Boards. If it does that, then the boards should have no fewer than four members and no more than nine.
One local board?
It is not clear at this point what the difference is between a Local Board and a Community Board, nor is it clear how many Local Boards one council can have. Auckland has 21 Local Boards for a population of 1.5 million. On this basis, Kapiti would have one Local Board.
It is clear, however, that no new Council can have both Local Boards and Community Boards.
The three Wairarapa Councils want to be a unitary council taking up their existing responsibilities and some of those currently undertaken by the Greater Wellington Regional Council. They will be in a position to present a proposal to the Local Government Commission by late February. Whether we like it or not, there is no “do nothing” option. The Wairarapa initiative will activate the review process as it will have impacts across the entire region.
As many readers will be aware, Greater Wellington and Porirua City have been advocating for the Palmer Panel’s recommendation of a single super city two tier model, with or without the Wairarapa. Wellington City Council is currently considering a single tier structure and the two Hutt Councils are looking at a unitary council combining just the Hutt Councils.
We have agreed to enter into discussions with Porirua and Greater Wellington and any other council in the region that is prepared to realistically discuss amalgamation options, at least for the five councils west of the Rimutaka ranges.
We expect to come out of those discussions with one or more reasonably developed and analysed proposals and we will be seeking feedback from our residents on it or them early in the New Year. In the meantime, I urge residents to take an interest in this issue as fundamental change is coming.