Local government amalgamation is back in the news. Earlier this month the Local Government Commission (LGC) released its draft recommendation for Wellington.
True to form the LGC had little regard to what the community wanted, and recommended a super city structure, much on the lines of the Auckland model, and similar to that proposed for Northland and the Hawkes Bay.
Under the Commission's proposal, the super city council would take over the functions of the existing nine councils: Masterton District Council; Carterton District Council; South Wairarapa District Council; Upper Hutt City Council; Hutt City Council; Wellington City Council; Porirua City Council; Kapiti Coast District Council, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
Included in the detail is the proposal to use capital value not land value for rating purposes, and it has recommended "two formal structures would ensure Maori participation in decision making - a Maori Board and a Natural Resources Management Committee. The two bodies would have a joint membership of council and iwi representatives. They would advise council on environmental and resource management issues, regional planning, and treaty settlement matters."
The LGC's recommendation is now open to public submission, but given the arrogance displayed by the LGC during its visit to Northland, the final recommendation to be released after submissions are heard is unlikely to reverse its stance. That would force the public to organise a petition to require a binding referendum on the matter.
According to the LGC's website, voters have 60 working days from the date the Commission releases a final report to collect enough signatures to force a referendum. They say, "a petition of 10% or more of affected electors in any one of the affected districts is able to trigger a poll [to be taken over the entire region of affected councils]...if more than 50% of valid votes support the proposal...the final proposal will be implemented and the proposed changes will take place. If the proposal attracts support from 50% or fewer of those voting, the reorganisation proposal will lapse."
In December last year the LGC issued a Draft Proposal for Reorganisation of Local Government in Northland. It recommended a unitary authority be created by merging the Far North District Council (FNDC), Whangarei District Council (WDC), Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Northland Regional Council (NRC).
That was followed by a period of public submissions. 1850 people made written submissions; 9% were for and 91% against.
The three member panel that heard submissions in April this year consisted of Basil Morrison (chairman), Anne Carter, and Grant Kirby. Mr Morrison is also a member of the Waitangi Tribunal and the New Zealand Geographic Board, and is a past President of Local Government New Zealand and Chair of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum. Anne Carter was the Deputy Secretary, Local Government and Community at the Department of Internal Affairs and had previously worked at Te Puni Kokiri and the Office of the Auditor General. Grant Kirby is a local government consultant, working mainly as a project director on local government related projects in the Auckland Region. Mr Kirby’s views on amalgamation are well known. In 2006 he wrote an article in the NZ Herald promoting the Auckland amalgamation (archive reference 10394836).
One could not have picked a better panel to recommend bigger council’s and stronger representation of iwi interests, so it should be no surprise that this is what they have consistently recommended, despite the overwhelming opposition from the public. That disregard is shameful and now more glaring given their Wellington recommendation. No doubt the integrity of the LGC itself will come under closer scrutiny as the Wellington amalgamation proposal takes its course.
With respect to Northland's amalgamation, the LGC says it "is now analysing the submissions and feedback from the hearings, and may undertake further inquiries and consultation with other groups if required. It then has four options:
- issue the draft proposal as a final proposal;
- modify the draft and issue it as a final proposal;
- issue a new draft proposal based on a different preferred option for local government in Northland; or
- decide not to issue a final proposal at all."
I expect the LGC will very soon release its draft proposal as a final proposal. If unchallenged that would have very significant implications for ratepayers. Residents in the Far North and Whangarei would pay more - they would in effect pay for Kaipara's debts -and a move from land value to capital value would significantly change the how much each ratepayer pays.
Amalgamation is the biggest issue to affect property owners since the last amalgamation in 1989, and I personally do not believe that has produced the benefits that were promised at the time. This time will be no different.