by Lindsay Shelton
Timing is everything. While most of Wellington was recovering from the Hobbit celebrations, Parliament yesterday passed the controversial Local Government Act. And the PSA’s Brenda Pilott, who watched the debate, said the new law was unwanted, undemocratic, just plain bad … “a grim day for communities.”
Similar comments were made in June, when Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown warned  that the new legislation was ill-considered and undemocratic. She said it would allow local authorities to be amalgamated without a poll being held … thus limiting the opportunity for communities to have their say on local governance.
The Regional Council turns out to have conflicting views on amalgamation. On red carpet day, Fran Wilde sent out a statement  welcoming the intention of the new legislation to allow a two-tier structure as proposed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s panel if – or more likely when – the region’s local government is amalgamated. But her colleague councillor Daran Ponter disagreed , saying the legislation wouldn’t allow a two-tier structure. He said it “provides for the Auckland model only – not a situation which Wellingtonians will embrace.”
Who’s right? In the DomPost this morning, Local Government Minister David Carter is on the defensive. He’s quoted as denying that the government is trying to force the Auckland model on to Wellington. “Wellington’s destiny is still in its own hands when it comes to the shape of its next council.”
If this is true, then the Wellington City Council will be able to carry out its plan for a poll before any decision on amalgamation is made. Councillor Pannett spoke about this  on the day that the Palmer report was released. She said: “There is a need for a binding poll on the future of the region. Politicians must not make the call on governance, this must be dictated by Wellingtonians.”
But the Labour Party has warned  that the new legislation opens the door to forced amalgamations without a poll. ““Once this law is passed people could well see their local council forcibly amalgamated into new super city style councils, and they won’t have a say in what happens,” said Phil Twyford in June.
And the Kapiti Council provided more evidence of this,  stating in July that the legislation would enable the Local Government Commission to proceed with a proposal [for amalgamation] without a poll unless a sufficient number of ratepayers petitioned for one. “The abolition of the requirement for a poll of electors is undemocratic.”