Saturday, April 3, 2010

Owen McShane: Time to Return to One Layer of Local Government?


The sacking of the Canterbury Regional Council reinforces my growing sentiment that we made a great mistake when, as part of the Bassett reforms of Local Government, we abandoned the long standing tradition of having one layer of local government, but with this layer separated into two kinds of Council. We had District or City councils for the urban areas, and separate Countiy Council (with associated catchment boards and roads boards and other special purpose bodies) for the rural area.

This remains the norm in most of US states and in the few places that have adopted Metro plans (where there is Regional Govt with Cities embedded as a second layer) they experiencing the same problems as we are – especially unaffordable housing, and construction failures etc.

The problem, as I see it, is that by having a massive Regional Council such as Canterbury, which is strongly associated with the largest City Council (Christchurch) the population based formula for representation means that the interests of the urban population dominate decision-making. We have a similar situation in Auckland where Mayor Banks declares that he is the Mayor of Great Barrier Island – and of course he is.

I suspect if the water plans had been managed by county councils served by specialist Catchment Boards they would have worked things out by now.

We probably do not need two layers of local government – just two kinds of local government – Urban Councils and County Councils.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. But do we also need to seperate out the resource consent functions of local government? There are obvious conflicts when a local authority is not only the issuing agency but also the enforecement agency. Surely someone other than council needs to monitor the consents under which it operates?

Anonymous said...

Catchment boards dealt with water within the catchment area they had responsibility for. The regional council model has lost sight of its core function of managing the water resources in a catchment. Canterbury regional councillors were canned as they forgot to look after the water in their catchment. was that because of too many city folk not understanding the significance of the resource they were supposed to be managing?

As far as the above argument re issueing authority having monitoring role, sounds like someone trying to protect their job... as there is the Ministry for the Environment & the Environmental Protection Agency which currently monitor NZ's major resources, combined with the multitude of environmental watchdog groups and Department of Conservation I think we have sufficient watchdogs and the appropriate enforcement entities at the right level. I'm with Owen on this remove Regional Councils and go back to rural catchment boards to manage the water catchments.

ross said...

I agree with Owen...if we hire one bureaucrat, we can expect one level of control...if we hire two, expect double the level of control. In a largely rural economy we should not have rural affairs controlled by an urban majority council. I would suggest with a streamlined form of governance such as Owen suggests, we need a much streamlined system of controls, but NZ'rs would need to forgo their love affair with "flexibility" which necessarily will involve large numbers of bureaucrats to determine..."the merits of any particular issue"! NZ'ers also have a strange attachment to having lots of laws....to apply to other people of course! The RMA with its nonsense about being "permissive" needs to go. And the Local Govt. Act with its suggestion of a power "of general competence" (an oxymoron if ever there was in so far as it applies to a government agency!) needs to be ditched in favour of a much reduced body of law with succinct laws which ..."say what they mean", and...."mean what they say".
For example, why don't we just go back to an old concept of a 'Town and Country Planning Act" with provision for strictly limited flexibility for those who choose to do something not prescribed by the new simple town or country laws....perhaps we could once again call it something like..."a specified departure". Or are readers too young to remember the 'bad old days' of personal responsibility??