Local focus welcome
COMMUNITY board chairs are applauding the government’s decision to retain grassroots democracy as Auckland moves towards becoming a supercity.
The Royal Commission on Auckland Governance recommended one council and mayor with six second-tier local councils.
But concerns that local issues could fall through the cracks saw the government scrap the idea of the secondtier councils and replace them with 20 to 30 local boards.
Avondale Community Board chairman Duncan Macdonald says the new scheme places more focus on what is happening in specific areas of the city.
“I think this is a much better plan,” he says. “By the looks of this the local is back in local politics.”
He says there are several questions to be answered, including what sort of budgets and staff the new boards will have.
MaungakiekieCommunity Board chairwoman Bridget Graham says the royal commission’s recommendations would have made it difficult for people to access local body politicians. “There were so few positions, how would people reach them? Now there’s a stronger layer of elected representatives.”
She would like to see the new boards take charge of parks, town centres and public amenities including libraries and swimming pools.
Eden Albert Community Board chairman Chris Dempsey also supports the changes.
“I welcome the government’s moves to protect and enhance local democracy. Local residents in the Eden Albert ward have been particularly vocal in their desire for local representation and decision-making.”
However he says a strong link between the supercouncil and local boards will need to be established to make it work.
Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says the government has taken on board the public’s view.
“The six councils would have been too large to allow effective community representation.”
“We are ensuring a greater connectedness.”
He says issues like gambling, graffiti management and dog control would be dealt with by the local boards while the new Auckland council would deal with the likes of building consents.
“We will establish their powers in statute and look at how their decisions come up to council.”
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule welcomed the government’s move to improve local representation, but he says there is a long way to go.
“The government must ensure that it retains key staff and elected members experienced in achieving the wellbeing outcomes prescribed for local government.”
However not everybody is happy about the plan.
City Vision-aligned Auckland City councillor Cathy Casey says both the royal commission’s recommendations and the government’s changes give the new supercouncil to much power.
“It is a power grab. The local boards will have to go begging to the big boys. The people deserve better.”
The Local Government Commission will determine the number of local boards, along with the boundaries of the Auckland Council by April next year.
The government hopes to have the supercity ready to go for the local body elections in October next year.