GWRC sets up committees
Water and climate change are among the ‘‘ big issues’’ leading another wholesale reorganisation of Greater Wellington Regional Council’s committees and assignments for the next triennium.
The council is positioning itself for greater responsibility for a wider range of regional affairs, and facing the prospect of a Wellington Supercity fight.
The most prominent change of focus is the change of committee intent from operational and policy oversight of GWRC to overarching social leadership significance, marked by name changes to regional ‘‘wellbeing’’ committees.
Re-elected chairwoman Fran Wilde, whose leadership was expansively praised by several councillors at their first full public meeting on November 18, said, ‘‘ People need to decide what are the big issues’’.
‘‘We have a list of them from our planning day [private workshop].’’
Ms Wilde and deputy chairman Peter Glensor are firmly in charge of the new council, which has an increased left-Labour-Green balance with three new members – former Labour Government minister Paul Swain, Labour’s Daran Ponter and Porirua’s Jenny Brash, an independent but liberal-greenie.
Only former Carterton mayor, Gary McPhee, who traded his motorcycle leathers for a pinstripe suit for the first meeting, may inject some centre-right views, as former Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce head Charles Finney lost out along with former GWRC deputy chairman Terry McDavitt, the former transport policy supremo who followed Lower Hutt’s Glen Evans.
Ms Wilde began major changes in 2007, when she ousted previous chairman Ian Buchanan, who lost his Wairarapa seat in this year’s election.
The other sitting councillors who failed to be re-elected were Upper Hutt’s Rex Kirton, Wellington’s Sally Baber, and Porirua’s John Burke.
Ms Wilde’s initiatives include upgrading the unofficial Maori advisory committee outside council (Ara Tahi) to a full council committee (Te Upoko Taiao).
That was done in the name of reorganising the oversight of natural resources planning, but gives equal membership on the committee to appointed, not elected, Maori iwi representatives.
The council may appoint outside members to its bodies.
Te Upoko Taiao remains as is, under the co-chairmanship of veteran councillor Chris Laidlaw (the other co-chairperson will be a Maori appointee), and its first co-chairwoman, Ms Wilde, as a full member instead of an ex-officio member, as she is with other committees.
Ms Wilde and Mr Glensor said at the meeting it was important to explain the reorganisation in the public forum.
‘‘The Crown realised over the last 18 months that regional councils have responsibility for many issues,’’ Ms Wilde said.
Mr Glensor said the addition of ‘‘wellbeing’’ committees pushed the structure towards more ‘‘innovative’’ solutions.
GWRC has, during the last six years, taken on, mostly on its own political initiative, greater actions in the social, economic and cultural side of life, well beyond the original intent of regional councils, first set up in 1989, to manage the Resource Management Act and regional infrastructure like water supply.
The three new ‘‘ wellbeing’’ committees are: environmental, chaired by Cr Barbara Donaldson, with new councillor Jenny Brash as deputy; economic, chaired by deputy chairman Cr Glensor, with Cr Paul Bruce as deputy; and social and cultural, with second-term councillor Nigel Wilson as chairman and veteran councillor Sandra Greig as deputy.
Committees disestablished include sustainability, catchment management, transport and access, regulatory, and civil defence and emergency management.
The former finance, audit and risk committee becomes just audit and risk. Cr Judith Aitken remains as the chairwoman, with Cr Glensor as deputy.
Cr Glensor retains his control over public transport as his former transport and access committee’s responsibilities become part of the economic wellbeing committee, which he chairs, and road transport as well.
Ms Wilde and Cr Glensor stay as chairwoman and deputy chairman of the regional transport committee, mandated by legislation and including outside representation, which oversees all regional land transport strategy and planning, including roads.
It has a large number of outside appointees, including from the New Zealand Transport Agency and health, iwi, business and special interest groups, including environmental, cycling, alternative transport and urban growth organisations.
Ms Wilde and Cr Glensor retain their input to the Wellington regional strategy committee which was set up with a $5 million a year extra rates levy to lead the regional strategy developed by the region’s cities and business interests, to improve the region’s economy.
That committee has a number of appointed members from the community, but the full council retains the final vote on any actions.
Ms Wilde said at the meeting, ‘‘We’re trying to free up meeting agendas so people can discuss big issues. And we’re responding to the Local Government Act. ’’
She said this is a more comprehensive but more efficient organisation.
Council chief executive David Benham said officers would try to ‘‘streamline’’ what was presented in meeting documents, and quarterly rather than half-yearly full reports.
But Ms Wilde warned councillors they ‘‘will still be swamped with papers’’.
One aspect of the council’s way of doing business troubled new councillor and former mayor for 12 years of Porirua, Jenny Brash.
She was concerned about the inability to raise issues in general business not on a meeting agenda at committee meetings.
It is possible to do so at full council meetings.
Cr Paul Bruce said he wanted to see an increase in ‘‘ community engagement’’.
Ms Wilde said council standing orders could be changed to allow it, but ‘‘if you want to do general business you’ll have to think carefully’’ about the change’’.
‘‘We’re pretty relaxed about how we conduct our meetings,’’ she said,