Region faces a big and ugly beast
How can Wellington region’s local government be rationalised? And why should it be?
They were some of the issues Wellington politicians debated at Wellington central library recently.
Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said if we didn’t do it ourselves, someone would do it for us, but Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown was sceptical of the benefits.
Green list MP Sue Kedgley said it was part of an Act Party strategy to privatise local government services.
Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said the Labour Party had no problem with a review, but opposed any compulsion to amalgamate.
Ms Wilde said Auckland’s 20 councillors could now actually sit with the government and command respect and dollars.
‘‘The growth, or the construction of the new Auckland is something we need to be cognisant of because the new Auckland, regardless of teething problems, is a very big and ugly machine with a third of the population.
‘‘And they are able to have regular meetings with senior politicians from central government and with very senior people from the departments and actually sit across the table from them, not as supplicants, but as negotiating partners. And I think it’s very important to understand that.’’
Local government minister Rodney Hide has begun a process of reviewing local governance, through a report entitled Smarter Government stronger communities.
A mayoral forum-commissioned study into amalgamation options and benefits by PricewaterhouseCoopers identified six options: Status quo Strengthened regional council Logical clusters of councils such as Lower Hutt / Upper Hutt or Wellington / Porirua
Two tier local government (modi- fied unitary authority with local councils)
Two sub-regional authorities
A single regional unitary authority
Some change in local governance was inevitable, Ms Wilde said.
‘‘The government is saying they are going to do something anyway.’’
The regional council had taken only a preliminary look at the PricewaterhouseCoopers report’s options, she said.
‘‘The one that came out with the most benefits was the two-tier option, so you keep community decision-making in the communities but you have one big entity that does the umbrella stuff.’’
However, she does not support the model imposed on Auckland, and any re-
unitary configuration of local government in Wellington region should focus on better long-term outcomes, rather than saving money, she said.
Most functions of local government have been taken over by 21 boards, appointed by the Minister of Local Government.
‘‘Street furniture – that’s even been taken away from the politicians in Auckland and it is now decided by a councilcontrolled organisation,’’ she said.
‘‘Wellingtonians need to have a good look at this, because if we don’t do something about it someone else will do it for us.’’
Wellington mayor Celia WadeBrown was sceptical about amalgamations, or a regional authority controlling regional services. She pointed out how differently the rising demand for water was being approached around the region.
‘‘Wellington City Council has decided that our approach should be through fixing leaks and education. We have said clearly ‘no’ to domestic water meters.’’
Kapiti, on the other hand appears headed for compulsory rain water collection tanks on new homes and universal domestic metering.
‘‘It seems to me that those two different areas in the region should be able to make those decisions,’’ she said.
Geographical neighbours are not necessarily the best councils to co-operate with one another and Wellington City Council is cooperating with Hamilton to back up computer systems.
‘‘ Just to go back to the charmingly-titled, but slightly suspicious matter, Smarter Government stronger communities – there is pressure on us to amalgamate. I am very sceptical about one city from Miramar to Masterton. I think that would dilute our differences without necessarily saving any money.’’
Green MP Sue Kedgley said Mr Hide had chosen the local government portfolio for himself when it became obvious that government asset sales were not going to be on the government’s first-term agenda.
‘‘ The goal is to completely kneecap local government,’’ she said.
Once most services were handed over to council-controlled organisations, they would be ripe for privatisation, she said.
‘‘Most Wellingtonians are completely oblivious to what is going on or where this government review might be headed,’’ she said.
Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said neither he nor the Labour Party was opposed to reviewing how best to organise local government.
‘‘What we are against is the notion of forced amalgamation,’’ he said.
From the audience, Peter Brooks said there seemed to be general agreement on a two-tier system of local government for Wellington.
‘‘What worries me at regional government level is that people don’t seem to relate to it politically, and yet they have got some of the really big jobs: the whole issue of climate change, transport and water.’’
Panel: Greater Wellington chairwoman Fran Wilde, left, Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson, Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Green Party list MP Sue Kedgley and the meeting chairman, Green Party list MP Gareth Hughes.,
Under the radar: Peter Brooks wanted to know why there was so little interest in regional government’s activities, despite it dealing with important issues.