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What next?

by Lindsay Shelton
The voting on a super-city has ended. All seven votes have been counted. Each vote wants something different. And now the Local Government Commission takes over the job of deciding: what happens next.

The last vote to be lodged was from Hutt City. Like Upper Hutt, it delivered a resounding attack on the concept of any super-city amalgamation. But it was a bit less than definite on what it wants – either the status quo or four unitary authorities, each with regional control of water and transport. The four-authorities concept would pave the way for a merger with Upper Hutt.

Upper Hutt’s submission seemed to oppose even a merger with its neighbour. It wants “greater collaboration and shared services,” but nothing more. “Residents… clearly stated they had no appetite for amalgamation [with] any other in the region… Amalgamations have not yet been proven to work.”

The Regional Council takes the opposite view. Fran Wilde is so enthusiastic about its super-city proposal that she personally delivered it to the Local Government Commission. She and her councillors want to abolish all the region’s nine councils (including all the ones that say they don’t want to be abolished) and replace them with one new two-tier organisation which, she says, would give Wellington “the strong, cohesive local government it deserves.”

The Wellington City Council also wants one new organisation, but it doesn’t want to force the three Wairarapa mayors into a merger which they’ve said they don’t want. And the city council doesn’t like the regional council’s two-tier model. It’s proposing a single-tier council with 29 elected councillors. This, says Celia Wade-Brown, “delivers clear advantages for direct access and direct accountability. It is efficient, effective and local.” She doesn’t like the two-tier plan because of “the remoteness of the ‘governing council,’ … 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.”

Then there’s Porirua. It goes along with the Regional Council’s plan except for the bit which would force the three Wairarapa councils into the super-city. Unlike the residents of the Hutt Valley, Porirua residents don’t seem to have strong feelings against amalgamation. But the Porirua council agrees with the Wellington city council in one important area – it wants “every voter in the Wellington region to have the final say, by way of a referendum, before a final decision is made.”

In Kapiti, councillors like the status quo and don’t support either of the amalgamation plans. But they sound nervous about what might be forced upon them. If a single-city plan is chosen, then they prefer the two-tier model so that local structures such as community boards could be preserved.

Confused? So, probably, is the little-known Local Government Commission. Its job is to consider all these conflicting proposals and to decide on a final plan.

And what about a referendum, which is wanted by Wellington and Porirua? It seems that a petition of 10% or more of affected electors in any one of the affected districts would be needed to 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’s plan? Celia’s plan? Or a multi-voiced status quo?

One voice? Whose voice?