Laidlaw finds niche in regional council
Chris Laidlaw served less than a term as a parliamentarian and it was long enough for him.
‘‘I walked in with my eyes shut and walked out with my eyes open,’’ he said.
He entered Parliament through a by-election for Fran Wilde’s Wellington Central seat when she won Wellington’s mayoralty and didn’t find the hectoring role of an opposition backbencher much to his liking.
‘‘I’m a kind of consensus, bipartisan, political agnostic. That’s what I like doing; finding solutions that everybody can be involved with and the adversarial nature of Parliament doesn’t allow for that,’’ he said.
‘‘That us-and-them syndrome is all over the western world, really.
‘‘There are big issues that are being held hostage to Parliament’s partisan politics.’’
Mr Laidlaw first caught public attention as an All Black halfback. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and read anthropology at Oxford’s Merton College.
He went on to serve New Zealand as a diplomat, a race relations conciliator and most recently as a Wellington regional council- lor. He found the council to be refreshingly free of party politics and a more constructive, healthy environment.
‘‘ It is an organisation that works far better than any of the city councils.
‘‘I don’t exactly know why that is but there is a real spirit of accommodation.’’
If only one thing is achieved in his time on the council he said it would be establishing a natural resources plan, he said.
‘‘What we are trying to achieve is an over-arching plan for the whole region which would absorb all the current plans and at the same time bring in a Maori dimension to resource planning.’’
The region’s land and coastal environments, water and air have been regulated by a plethora of individual plans and, generally, regional councils had far too many plans, Mr Laidlaw said.
This one would simplify them and bring them all together.
‘‘When we can achieve this, and co- management of the natural resources base, it will be a unique achievement locally and a first nationally.’’
Mr Laidlaw would also like to see rationalisation of the region’s local governance.
‘‘We’ve got a mish-mash of overlaps and duplication. We basically need a a single giant plan for the whole region, of which the natural resources plan would be a subset.’’
But he would not be drawn on what form he thought local government should take.
‘‘We are not going to go the super-city route. There’s no appetite for it at all,’’ he said.
‘‘The secret to local government in the region is regionalise that stuff that needs to be done regionally and assign all that to a body. Whether it be a regional council, I don’t care.’’
Resource management, including water quality and supply, spatial planning and transport all needs to be closely co-ordinated, he said.
‘‘Having regionalised what we need to, then we decide on the structure of local government after that.
‘‘Maybe we don’t need councils. I personally think we do, because territorial authorities deliver a whole lot of services that people need.’’
Political agnostic: Wellington regional councillor Chris Laidlaw.