Amalgamation debate begins with questions
An independent panel will consider a possible super-city style redesign of the region’s local government, while the mayors have decided to consult their citizens separately.
The regional council panel must report by October and, following that, its proposal will be presented to the Local Government Commission.
The Government has told the councils it wants new council structures in place in time for the 2013 local body elections, and it plans to legislate limits to council activities.
Greater Wellington will provide $150,000 to fund the panel and expects any other participating parties to pay a share.
The regional council decided last week to establish the panel to consider local governance in the region and to invite councils and other organisations to participate in selecting the members and setting its terms of reference.
Hutt councillor Peter Glensor said 1.5 million New Zealanders are living under one unitary authority in Auckland.
‘‘ We are fewer than half a million people here with nine different local authorities and we can’t get away from that change that has happened,’’ he said.
The Christchurch earthquakes mean that it and Auckland are the two focuses of the Government’s attention, he said.
Regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde said the panel’s deadline was tight.
‘‘ The Government have proposed a timetable through the House which some people who have been ex- inmates of that institution believe is very ambitious. On the other hand we do know that MPS are able to change their own superannuation requirements in the blink of an eye,’’ she said.
‘‘The fact is that Parliament can push legislation through very fast if it wishes to. If there is an appetite on the part of the Government for this, they will do it.’’
Upper Hutt councillor Paul Swain successfully moved an amendment requiring a referendum on the panel’s recommendation, saying it would give people some say on the result.
He also pointed out that one possible outcome of the process could be the dissolution of the regional council.
‘‘This is not a process to preserve the regional council.
‘‘The panel and the referendum should not involve people with vested interests.’’
Councillor Daran Ponter said he did not want Greater Wellington staff to provide support to the panel. ‘‘This panel does need to be independent and they do need to be put behind a Chinese wall.’’
Wellington councillor Chris Laidlaw opposed giving ratepayers a say through a referendum, saying they provide more questions than they answer.
Judith Aitken opposed a referendum but did support the appointment of a panel.
She was ‘‘not convinced as to what the problems actually are.
‘‘One of the tasks for this review panel is going to be to very clearly identify what are the significant problems that structural solutions will remedy.’’
‘‘We should be very, very careful that the root of this is an issue of constitutional democracy,’’ she said. ‘‘It is at risk where executive and governments are willing to pass legislation that undermines significant democratic matters.’’