Press Release – Better Wairarapa
A newly released report provides few reasons for the Wairarapa to leave Wellington and go it alone.
The Wairarapa Councils commissioned MartinJenkins consultants (MJ) to assess the viability of a Wairarapa unitary authority. The report verified the viability of a Wairarapa unitary subject to:
• wishing away the public transport subsidies;
• exaggerating Wairarapa’s share of the CentrePort dividend; and
• slashing environmental protection expenditure.
The report also makes no allowance for major capital expenditure and misleadingly compares Wairarapa with other small unitary councils that do not provide an equivalent level of services.
The MJ report excludes the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s (GWRC) public transport subsidies from the projected Wairarapa unitary reconciliation (p. 37). MJ claim that the GWRC supports the exclusion of the public transport subsidies (p. 28). The GWRC chairperson, Fran Wilde, has refuted this.
Currently, the Wairarapa-Wellington passenger train service receives a 50% subsidy: 25% from NZTA and 25% from GWRC. GWRC pays $2.52m of which $0.7m is collected from Wairara[pa ratepayers. If the local authority contribution is reduced the subsidy will reduce, ticket prices will most likely double, and the train service will be in real jepoardy. Many commuters may have to travel by car or even leave Wairarapa altoegther.
To retain the passenger train service, the Wairarapa unitary council will have to contribute most, if not all, of the $2.52m. This should be included in the viability assessment.
To make the Wairarapa unitary appear viable, MJ have increased Wairarapa’s share of Wellington’s CentrePort dividend from $0.4 (estimated by Price Waterhouse Coopers) to $0.8m. They claim that Wairarapa is entitled to 2/13ths ($0.8m) of the CentrePort dividend because Wairarapa had 2 of the 13 seats on the Wellington harbour board. This analysis is recklessly optimistic.
The proposed Wairarapa unitary authority excludes northern Wairarapa and is significantly smaller than the Wairarapa that had 2 representatives on the now defunct Wellington harbour board. Therefore, the Wairarapa unitary will not get a 2/13ths share of the dividend. The only way to apportion the Wairarapa unitary’s share from the Wairarapa outside of the unitary, is by capital value. Given this, it makes more sense to apportion the dividend according to the respective capital values of the Wairarapa unitary and the Supercity – the methodology used by Price Waterhouse Coopers.
The MJ report proposes a reduction in environmental policy in the absence of the GWRC subsidies. At the presentation of the report, MJ said that farmers can expect to pay a greater share of these costs. Farmers will not take this lying down. This also assumes that the incoming councillors on the Wairarapa unitary will agree to the reduction.
The comparison with Wairarapa and the other small unitary authorities, Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and Gisborne is erroneous. Gisborne, Tasman and Nelson do not have a rail service at all. Regional transport services are especially weak in Gisborne and the region has recently lost its rail freight services. It is a good example of a small unitary authority having insufficient power to persuade KiwiRail and the government to keep the service open.
In addition, Gisborne barely has an environmental policy as evident in the frequency of flooding. Marlborough and Tasman are significantly less dependent on agriculture and neither have the erodible hill country that Wairarapa has. Wairarapa has a proud record of caring for the environment dating back to the Wairarapa catchment board.
In short, these small unitary councils deliver a lower level of services than the Wairarapa currently enjoys.
The MJ report goes well beyond its brief of assessing the viability of a Wairarapa unitary authority by giving a politicised analysis of Wairarapa’s vulnerability as a minority within the Wellington Supercity. These reservations are overblown.
Wairarapa is currently in the same minority position within the GWRC, yet has done exceedingly well out of it, as evident in the $10m+ support the Wairarapa receives each year.
No wonder Wairarapa stakeholders are alarmed.