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By the time the Wellington Regional Council voted this week to hire independent experts to write a proposal for local government reform, the eight other councils had agreed to do things differently: to consult with their communities first, and then to decide on options for change.
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown continues to insist, in her comments on reform, that there must be consultation first, before the city council debates the possibilities. “It is important that our public consultation does not have a pre-determined outcome,” she said, and councillors seem to agree with her. Her process couldn’t be more different from the Regional Council.
This week she produced four maps (click on them for a larger view) to help encourage discussion. The first shows the status quo – eight councils plus the Regional Council. The second map shows how things would look if there were only three councils – a Wellington/west coast city, a Hutt city, and the Wairarapa. A third possibility could be two councils – one urban/harbour and one rural. And the fourth possibility: one super-city, which is favoured by the Regional Council’s chair Fran Wilde and is not favoured by Mayor Wade-Brown.
A widening gap between the Regional Council and the others became visible this week when Hutt councillors said they would not consult with the regional council’s experts. Mayor Ray Wallace said he didn’t think they would be truly independent. “They [the regional council] have been pushing one particular agenda for some time and they have painted themselves into a corner.”
That agenda was being pushed in November, when a group of regional councillors prepared a paper in favour of one super-city which they distributed anonymously. As its circulation grew, so did debate about the workings of the regional council itself. Its undemocratic decision, for example, to support a flyover at the Basin Reserve which was made by a committee and never discussed by the full council. Since then, its consultation on changes to bus routes and schedules has been criticised as less than adequate, so much so that two regional councillors set up their own series of meetings with Wellingtonians – three times as many as the council itself.
Nevertheless, there’s a general expectation that the Regional Council’s independent panel, who are being hired at a cost of $150,000, will deliver a super-city plan. There’s also a growing awareness that Fran Wilde, faced with the likely abolition of the Regional Council, could be interested in becoming the first mayor of the super-city.
But with eight local bodies listening to their communities, the Regional Council’s go-it-alone plan may have trouble attracting the support which it is hoping for. Specially as it wants its experts to say what should be done, and not the public.