Wellington Scoop

Lords or ladies? The debate about the future of a united Wellington

If the first Lord Mayor of the new super city envisaged by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and his panel is Celia or Fran or Kerry or Annette or Jenny, will she become a Lady Mayor? You can’t help thinking that the panel’s report got off to a bad start by recommending such an antediluvian title as Lord Mayor.

Ohariu MP Peter Dunne doesn’t like the idea of having a Lord Mayor.

the title of Lord Mayor is somewhat old-fashioned. I think the person elected to lead the Greater Wellington Council should be called the Mayor of Wellington

But in general he thinks the recommendations are a good compromise that would enable the capital to compete with Auckland and Christchurch. The panel wants to cut the number of elected representatives from 107 to 79. It wants one central regional council plus six local councils which would each be headed by “a mayoral figurehead, elected by their councillor peers.” Again, an unfortunate title, and again, it’s been criticised by Peter Dunne.

The leaders of the local area councils [should be] referred to as the chairs of those councils.

Though the panel is proposing only a modest cut in the number of elected representatives, it’s being much tougher about the employees. It wants only one chief executive (instead of nine) and one “unified corps of local body officers who will ensure the whole system pulls in the same direction and will allow expertise to be shared.” The six local councils would each have to make do with a manager and advisers. Their influence doesn’t seem likely to be great, though the panel allows that “people will still be able to go to their local councils and have their issues attended to.”

The mayor of Lower Hutt has condemned the plan. Ray Wallace says there are no gains for Hutt Valley residents and ratepayers.

… there are some real disadvantages. We are a significant population and have the lowest average rate increases, a sound set of books with low debt and an infrastructure that is up to scratch – why would we want to amalgamate and take on problems we do not need. Our residents want one of two things. We want to stand alone with greater shared services or join Upper Hutt in one joint council.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has questions about the plan.

With funding and decision-making centralised in a top-tier, there’s not a lot of opportunity to challenge those decisions locally – local area councils could be purely an illusion of democracy. The Capital would be in a minority in the top-tier decision-making process; I’m interested to see what the public of Wellington has to say about that, given the essential nature of arts, economic and political sectors to Wellington. I don’t think the public wants 11 people making all the decisions for the region. Big issues like transport have huge implications for local communities and the larger region, you can’t separate those levels. Can a two-tier system really effectively marry up the strategic importance of a decision with the effects on local communities?

Even more strongly against the plan it Councillor Iona Pannett, , who says it will disempower Wellingtonians.

With nearly half of the region’s population and the CBD at the heart of the region, it does not make sense that the proposed super city would only have four seats for Wellington City. The gutted Local Area Councils will also have little say in the decision making process given it is the super Council that will make all the strategic decisions and rate for the whole region.

If Wellingtonians are unhappy at the thought of having only four seats on the big central council, think of Upper Hutt, Kapiti, Porirua and the Wairarapa – they’d have only one representative each. (Lower Hutt would get two.) Regional Councillor Paul Bruce thinks there should be twice as many elected councillors.

Councillor Pannett has other concerns, and she makes a veiled reference to regional councillors who haven’t shown much ability to interact with the locals.

The model prioritises governance over representation work by Councillors. The heavy workload demanded by a super council will leave little time to engage with constituents. It is clear that some politicians don’t want to engage with their communities locally and this model will support this approach. It will also concentrate power in the hands of a wealthy elite. The only people likely to be elected will be people with large wallets and high profile.

Wellington’s three Labour councillors are politely suspicious. They have some nervousness about … the “refurbished regional council” structure being proposed. The report was, of course, initiated by the Regional Council, which has been confronted by Wellington City Council options proposing its abolition. So there’s no surprise that Fran Wilde and Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett (Porirua joined the regional body in establishing the panel) are enthusiastic about the recommendations which they say are

well researched and will result in far more strategic and integrated regional leadership with the retention of authentic local democracy.

What happens next? The Regional Council and Porirua say they’ll discuss their report with the other councils. Most of the other councils want a referendum before any changes are made, though the government has said it wants the power to enforce change, as it’s done in Canterbury and Auckland.

The Wairarapa is already resisting. Sir Geoffrey’s plan to include it in the new super city is contrary to the wishes of the three Wairarapa mayors, who said last week

Wairarapa people have clearly and consistently told us that they strongly support a single Wairarapa council. They see Wairarapa and Wellington as vastly different communities of interest and are strongly of the view that Wairarapa should not become part of one council for the greater Wellington region.

Sir Geoffrey dismisses their view. He says the Wairarapa can’t afford to stay separate.

So the debate is starting to heat up. There’s no doubt that change is wanted – of 1209 submissions received by the Wellington City Council earlier this year, 77 per cent agreed there should be change. But there was no agreement on what the change should be. However, given four options to consider, the largest number of people – 296 – chose the idea of two big councils, one for Wellington, the Hutt Valley, Porirua and Kapiti, the other for the Wairarapa. Which isn’t too far removed from the recommendations of Sir Geoffrey’s panel.

The recommendations in full

A summary of the recommendations

1 comment:

  1. traveller, 31. October 2012, 7:43

    Can it be that the regional council is being positioned as the new central and all-powerful authority? Surely not. Its record on consultation is not good. Think of its decision to support the Basin flyover, without a vote of the full council, leaving submitters unheard. In comparison, the city council listened to submitters, and then voted – against.