Super-city – eyes shut at 20 paces
The most striking feature of the so-called super-city debate has been the intransigence it has brought out.
Battle lines have been drawn, alliances struck and trenches dug, but it is unlikely to be the war to end wars.
Hutt mayor Ray Wallace has confidently predicted that the Local Government Commission’s proposal to abolish the region’s eight territorial authorities and regional council to form a single super council will be struck down by a referendum.
If it is, he should not expect life to go on as before with everyone living happily ever after.
Of the two proposals and 15 submissions to the commission, only Hutt City’s and Upper Hutt’s wanted the status quo.
The rest agreed something needed to change.
It is not likely to be long before a new proposal goes to the commission and the process begins again.
The period for submissions on the draft proposal could be an opportunity to sort out differences and come up with a compromise solution acceptable to most referendum voters.
The alternative is a longrunning war of attrition ending in a resolution that might not work for many, and may not last long.
The commission has done a lot of good work to establish the facts about the region, polling residents’ preferences and analysing the costs and benefits of alternatives.
People may not like its conclusions, but the groundwork has been done for anyone who wants to prepare the next grand plan for Wellington, and new proposals will not take long.
Wellingtonians might end up with a local government scheme by elimination rather than intelligent design.
The problems have been spelled out clearly.
The region has too many voices to the Government, and they are drowned out by 1.5 million Aucklanders and 500,000 Christchurch residents.
Although the commission acknowledged Wellington did not have the degree of dysfunction evident in pre- amalgamation Auckland, it is still there.
Water supply, sewerage and stormwater have been coordinated under a councilcontrolled organisation. Transport is considered collectively by a joint council committee, but spatial planning remains a fly in the ointment, as Porirua mayor Nick Leggett has stressed.
Most councils have spurned any effort to plan commercial and residential development collectively alongside transport and the threewaters infrastructure, wanting instead to promote population growth in their own patches.
Development promotion has been somewhat co- ordinated under Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, but the agency has not been entrusted with anything like the whole budget.
Some councils have acknowledged global climate change will have significant local consequences, but others are in steadfast denial.
As one regional councillor pointed out recently, managed retreat will be the only practicable response to rising seawater levels in some places – some homes and some businesses will have to be sacrificed.
Deciding which spaces should be defended or abandoned is too big for a territorial authority to take on its own.
Currently eight mayors, one chairwoman and 95 councillors represent less than half a million people – probably too many.
The single mayor and 21 coun- cillors proposed by the commission are possibly too few.
At some point the protagonists need to pull their heads in, sit down and try to nut out a compromise that would solve the problems in a way that wouldn’t be knocked over by a referendum.
Now would be good. We have until March 2. What happens next? If the draft proposal for amalgamating local government in the Wellington region stands in its present form, and if a referendum rejects it, as many predict, the subject will be far from closed.
Of the 17 proposals put to the Local Government Commission, only Hutt City and Upper Hutt advocated the status quo.
Every other submission acknowledged that some change was necessary, though they didn’t agree on what form it ought to take. Some change seems inevitable.
If the Local Government Commission proposal is defeated in a referendum, a prompt new proposal to the commission is highly likely, triggering a rematch.
The commission cannot reconsider any similar proposal, but it could consider real alternatives.
For instance, the three Wairarapa councils could be amalgamated as territorial authorities, and the regional council retained.
The Local Government Commission took 17 months of consultation, analysis and research to come up with its draft proposal in December, so any new proposal could keep the region in limbo until the end of 2016, at least.
Ray Wallace: Confident referendum will fail.
Nick Leggett: Wants more co-operation.