Wellington Scoop

Bits and gaps – everyone’s job, and no-one’s

by Talk Welly
Since Wellington cities rejected the amalgamation proposal in 2012, we’ve stuck with our structure for planning stuff: four cities, five district councils (most of the public-good physical fabric and operations of our towns and cities), and a regional council (air, soils and earth, natural water, biodiversity, bits of public transport).

Plus a “regional” bit of the national transport agency, one of the same kind of thing for health services, and another that decides where schools go. One council-controlled agency does three waters for the region, plus we’ve an economic development agency, and a regional civil defence body.

But where it comes to the Big Calls and to planning ahead so stuff actually works together, there are heaps of gaps.

For example, what movement we need (vs what should be accessible with small trips) is split amongst at least three outfits: NZTA (state highways, more than you’d think), the regional council, your local council.

Where in the region big destinations and services should be vis-à-vis living places for lots of people – airport, schools, transport nodes – nobody’s on that. What industries and activities should be encouraged and discouraged regionwide – nobody’s got that either. It’s all bits and gaps.

According to the Productivity Commission’s report on local government], the lack of regional planning is one of the reasons things aren’t working well (and testimony to people’s workaround powers when things do!).

Spatial planning – essentially using space (locations) – is a damn useful tool. If the Wellington region can at least get the different bodies looking at the one map (or integrated set of maps) that shows All The Things that’ll be a damn good start for regional planning.

It might help bridge some of the jurisdictional divides that create bits of idiocy like the Ngauranga cutoff for Let’s Get Wellington Moving, or the phenomenon of bus station shelters versus (in the conflict sense) the running of bus services.

The Local Government Commission is looking into all this, apparently. They say

“Spatial planning was one of the areas of focus that the Commission and the Wellington Mayoral Forum agreed should be investigated after the reorganisation process was restarted in June 2015.”

I believe there’s also an obligation on councils to do spatial planning, brought in as part of the 2013 RMA reforms. Spatial planning is so useful it’s slightly terrifying that all our local government need to be told to use it more.

There’s a wide range of mappish things being used to do spatial planning-type work, region-wide.

Prettiness doesn’t equate to usefulness, but to take just one council there’s the “flat picture” through to the functional but user-unfriendly GIS based website through to the rather beautiful immersive visualisation (but you need to be in the special goggles to see it properly). And, of course, Google Maps, Satellite and Earth.

There are lots of reasons why we’re a bit crap at it (just ask Land Information New Zealand and the spatial profession). But we shouldn’t be – and if it helps us do better regional planning it would be nothing but good.

First published on the Talk Wellington website.


  1. Benny, 12. February 2019, 11:51

    “Where in the region big destinations and services should be vis-à-vis living places for lots of people – airport, schools, transport nodes – nobody’s on that” … Who wants to live vis-a-vis an airport? Noise is the second cause of morbidity (premature death). Only people who fly everyday would find neighbouring an airport useful, but they are a minority .

    But agreed on your main point: geospatial planning would not hurt the region. That is, of course, if not put in the hand of another committee like the regional transport one. We all know what this beast has given birth to.

  2. Ross Clark, 20. February 2019, 2:41

    The point of the 1989 reforms was to put planning, in theory, in the hands of the regional councils and day-to-day service delivery in the hands of the TLAs. There was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, but the changes were accepted in the end.

    I know that the Auckland Supercity option has not been popular, but again, I cannot see anyone wanting to revert to the old structure. Hence, a supercouncil for Wellington will be needed at some point. But are there too many egos getting in the way?

  3. Keith Flinders, 20. February 2019, 10:47

    The scheme drawn up for a Wellington Super City model was the problem, hence most in the region saw through it and rejected the proposal. Its aim was to consolidate decision making in the hands of a very few, and distance rate payers even further than now. Local boards representing the ratepayers would have had little authority to do anything other than decide what biscuits to order for the afternoon teas.

    When we look at the hapless GWRC and bustastrophe, as well as the WCC’s vanity conference centre proposal, it’s apparent that changes are needed. What model is needed is the question.

  4. Farmer Bill, 20. February 2019, 11:20

    Get rid of the GWRC! The Wairarapa would be better off without it. Local councils can get together to bulk purchase when they need to but local democracy means LOCAL!

  5. Curtis Antony Nixon, 20. February 2019, 16:59

    Agreed Keith. The model I propose is to get rid of GWRC and split its functions between the remaining district and city councils. As Wellington Water shows, local councils can cooperate together when necessary for regional service delivery. A whole, extra, bloated level of bureaucracy just puts further distance from citizens and our representatives, and creates unnecessary costly duplication.

  6. Ross Clark, 20. February 2019, 22:11

    @Farmer Bill
    Perhaps, but I cannot see a good case for retaining three councils for the Wairarapa, when it has only 50,000 people.

  7. Farmer Bill, 20. February 2019, 22:53

    Ross – we had a referendum and amalgamation was widely rejected! Wairarapa is a big place! Carterton, Masterton and Featherston and Martinborough are separate townships. Indeed there should be 4 councils not three. Local democracy means LOCAL. Geddit?

  8. TrevorH, 21. February 2019, 7:56

    @ Farmer Bill: you make an excellent point. Democracy requires accountability and for that to be possible local government must remain accessible and responsive to those it purports to represent. For those reasons I voted against amalgamation and I believe the GWRC should be dissolved too. Where wider coordination is required it should be undertaken by task-specific bodies like a regional transport authority whose members remain answerable to the voters.