One voice – but whose voice?

Those who are keen to have a super-city have been saying amalgamation is needed so that Wellington can speak with one voice. Some of the people who may be hoping to become the single voice have been speaking more loudly than others in recent weeks, but the one voice is not yet evident.

Fran Wilde is the voice which has driven the Regional Council’s super-city proposal for a new two-tier Wellington Council to replace the region’s nine territorial authorities. She’s so committed to the plan that she personally delivered it to the Local Government Commission last week. She said it was

… an important step towards ensuring the Wellington region gets the strong, cohesive local government it deserves. For our region to truly prosper we need to start making decisions on a regional level and ensuring that decisions made in one area complement decisions being made for other areas. By unifying the nine councils that currently operate in the region into one authority, we can cut through the bureaucracy, red tape and duplication to not only ensure greater consistency of service but also to provide a strong voice for the region. We can also ensure that local democracy is retained through the creation of local boards with substantial powers of decision and budgeting on community issues.

The application supports a two-tier council model, comprising a governing body of 22 members and eight local boards each with up to nine members.

The Fran Wilde plan is not supported by Celia Wade-Brown and the Wellington City Council. They have a different super-city idea. They want a single tier council for the metropolitan Wellington area west of the Rimutakas. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says:

The single unitary council, made up of a Mayor and 29 councillors elected from 29 single member local wards, would provide a clear and simple choice for the Local Government Commission to consider and for Wellingtonians to decide in a binding poll. Under our proposal, the Wellington region will be presented with a clear choice between a single-tier option for change, or the status quo. It will be up to Wellingtonians to decide.

A single-tier model delivers clear advantages for direct access and direct accountability. It is efficient, effective and local. Smaller wards could transform the way we engage in local democracy. Alongside the more direct access to representatives, it will be easier and less expensive for people to stand for Council. There is a direct transmission of local issues to a wider forum.

The Hutt Valley’s two mayors are opposed to both of these super-city plans. Hutt City mayor Ray Wallace said last week that two polls of 7000 people have shown strong opposition to any super-city, except perhaps a merger between Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt.

Our communities have made a strong and clear statement that plans for a supercity are dead. People are passionate about this issue and are telling us no to a supercity. Our job is to make sure the Local Government Commission knows the depth of local feeling.”

The three Wairarapa mayors have also said they don’t want to be part of any super-city, though the Regional Council has ignored their wishes and has included them in its plan.

Nick Leggett and the Porirua City Council are backing the Regional Council plan. But not the bit about the Wairarapa. On this they’re trying not to take sides.

The Kapiti Council has refused to support the Regional Council plan. Like the Hutt Valley, Kapiti likes the status quo. But Kapiti is nervously looking ahead to the possibility that change may be imposed. Mayor Jenny Rowan:

If a single city model is preferred by the Local Government Commission, councillors, guided by strong community feedback, stated a preference for a two tier structure that retained local structures such as community boards or their equivalent. This district is made up of very distinct communities that need their own voice and representation. That will be a vital requirement of any model we propose.

So Wellington is a long way from having a single voice. And what kind of single voice will it be? Two very different voices are leading the campaign.

Fran Wilde’s controlling approach is typified by her decision to override the wishes of the Wairarapa mayors who want to stay outside a Wellington super-city. She explains why she knows best:

We believe a Wairarapa unitary would have to overcome major challenges, both in terms of the funding infrastructure and services, and the specialist staff required to carry out the functions. Such factors suggest that Wairarapa’s future may be negatively impacted if it were governed by a small unitary authority rather than being included as part of a single unitary council for the wider region.

Celia Wade-Brown’s more inclusive approach is shown in her criticism of the Regional Council’s two-tier plan:

What concerns this Council is the remoteness of the ‘governing council’ of a two-tier model, neither directly accessible nor accountable. That second tier isolates the region’s decision makers from the people they serve. This provides an illusion of democracy at best. The so-called local boards will find that their powers are limited more to the placement of rubbish bins than the strategic direction of our city.

And by her committment to how the final decision will be made.

The City Council’s submission is an option for change, not a prescription. The public would have a genuine say in a binding poll. At the end of the day, we expect there to be a poll and the public will make the final decision about whether to opt for change or stick with the status quo.

What happens next? The process is to be handled by the little-known Local Government Commission. After hearing all the different and conflicting proposals, it will decide on a final plan and announce it. A period of 60 working days will be allowed for responses. A petition of 10% or more of affected electors in any one of the affected districts would trigger a poll. If more than 50% of valid votes support the proposal, or if no poll is called for, the final proposal will be implemented and the proposed changes will take place. If the proposal attracts support from 50% or fewer of those voting, the reorganisation proposal will lapse.

Fran or Celia? Or the multi-voiced status quo?


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