Super-city concept not new
Porirua nearly became part of a west coast super-city in 1989’s radical local government reforms, it has been revealed by their architect.
Sir Brian Elwood, former Local Government Commission chairman, said things could have been very different after the changes.
‘‘Kapiti Coast could have been allied with Porirua; Porirua could have been allied with Wellington, which would have meant one west coast council stretching from Wellington to Otaki.’’
We spoke to Sir Brian at his Waikanae home as amalgamation looms for the district again, possibly in time for the next council elections.
Kapiti Coast District was created in the reforms, overseen by Sir Brian, which cut New Zealand’s ‘‘ jigsaw’’ of 800 local authorities down to less than 80.
He said an amalgamated west coast city was considered in the changes, but ‘‘as conditions existed’’ in 1989 the councils were considered too disconnected.
However, Sir Brian said the eventual creation of two cities and a council was an interim solution that could be changed very readily. Either way, the commission recognised Kapiti council’s future was to the south, not north towards Horowhenua and Manawatu.
‘‘In the finish the decision was made to focus the Kapiti Coast towards Wellington because we looked carefully at where people worked and where they lived . . . and that combination . . . was really centred on Wellington.’’
Sir Brian would not explicitly endorse amalgamation possibilit- ies for upcoming changes but said change shouldn’t be feared – and even his reforms from the 1980s were not permanent.
‘‘I never thought that the 1989 decisions would last forever . . . in many ways they were a step along a continuing journey, because life doesn’t stand still.’’
The 1989 changes were the first successful overhaul of local government since the late nineteenth century.
They were the
last major reforms by a Labour Government that had introduced massive – and still controversial – central government changes.
The government introduced legislation that gave Sir Brian’s commission the authority to make any changes. Law changes going through Parliament now, from the National Government, would give communities the power to request change.
Individuals, groups or councils could propose amalgamation to the Local Government Commission.
If accepted by the commission, the only thing stopping the amalgamation would be a poll sparked by a petition comprising 10 per cent of voters.
The poll would be decided by a majority of voters from the entire council area.
Sir Brian said back in the 1980s the commission tried to avoid exercising its substantial power, holding back unless there was no willingness from councils to ‘‘move from the status quo’’.
One of the fears at the time was that areas would lose their local identity along with their council – something that hadn’t happened, he said.
‘‘The community identity is not the council – the council is a service organisation. The community creates its own identity and it’s the people that are important and they will create their identity.’’
While identity might not be a problem for modern councils, Sir Brian said the demand for new and better council assets and services in New Zealand had been continuous.
‘‘Looking back to 1989, and it doesn’t seem very long ago as far as I’m concerned, the standards of community infrastructure and services have grown dramatically; and yet we are still not satisfied, we want more.
‘‘All right, it’s nice to want – but somebody has to pay.’’
Councils have nothing other than what they rate, or what they borrow, he said.
‘‘And one thing I’ve come to regret is the extent to which development has increasingly come to be provided with borrowed money . . . a problem all around the western world.’’
Sir Brian said he wanted to stay on the sidelines of the current amalgamation debate and ‘‘be helpful’’ where he could.
‘‘The lesson of 1989 is that local government can survive, it can change.’’
Council crafter: Change is certain and should not be feared, says Sir Brian Elwood.