City merger put on hold
Plans to merge Wellington and Porirua into one city have been put on ice amid fears the public would not get a say in the matter.
Wellington city councillors voted two weeks ago to let the matter lie until new laws have been passed by Parliament this year making it easier for councils to merge if they so wish.
That means any talk of a merger will not be back on the Wellington City Council table until after the October local body elections.
Porirua City Council supported the proposed regionwide amalgamation, which was eventually scrapped last year, and Porirua mayor Nick Leggett has spoken often of how beneficial an amalgamation between Wellington and Porirua would be.
The only Wellington City councillor to vote against delaying the merger on Wednesday was Tawa’s Malcolm Sparrow, but only because he had not had enough time to understand the Government’s proposed law change.
Local Government Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga announced the intention of changing the Local Government Act in early March. If the changes become law in their current state, they will, for the first time, allow councils to lead their own amalgamation processes, rather than having to ask the Local Government Commission.
Wellington mayor Celia WadeBrown said there was no requirement for council-led amalgamations to be decided by a referendum, nor was there any suggestion a public vote would even be optional.
Councillors did not realise that until Cabinet papers outlining the changes were released, and in light of that ‘‘concerning’’ revelation, Wade-Brown said it was best to let the matter lie for now.
‘‘Our council, particularly myself, have always said we must have a referendum on any amalgamation proposal,’’ she said.
‘‘Citizens deserve the right to vote on any changes to their local democracy.’’
Wellington City councillor Paul Eagle said there was concern about the Government taking power away from the people when it came to council mergers.
‘‘We need to have a better look at what Cabinet is thinking, and what this Government is thinking, before we go and make a vital decision over the two councils merging,’’ he said.
The new legislation is expected to be introduced in June, and will go through the select committee process. It is expected to become law in December.