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Supercity decision: one mayor, twenty-one councillors, and eight local boards

amalgamation

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The Local Government Commission has decided that Wellington should become a super city, with all of its nine councils being merged into one. It is recommending that the new super city should be governed by one council with a mayor and 21 councillors, advised by eight local boards.

The new organisation would take over the functions of the Wellington City Council, the Hutt City Council, the Upper Hutt City Council, the Porirua City Council, the Kapiti Coast District Council, the Masterton District Council, the Carterton District Council, the South Wairarapa District Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The three Wairarapa Councils had asked to stay separate from the new entity. The two Hutt councils had said they were willing to merge, but didn’t want to be part of a larger organisation.

The Commission is proposing that the big new single council would have a shared decision-making structure. Power would be shared between the governing body (a mayor and 21 councillors) and 60 members of local boards. The mayor would be elected by voters of Greater Wellington. Councillors and local board members would be elected from eight defined geographic areas.

The mayor and councillors would be responsible for high-level decisions affecting all of Wellington. The local boards would control council budgets and decisions for local matters in established communities. Local boards would be created for Wairarapa; Upper Hutt; Lower Hutt; Kapiti Coast; Porirua-Tawa; Ohariu; Lambton; and Rongotai.

For and against amalgamation

Commission chair Basil Morrison said the shared decision-making model of a unitary authority with local boards was the best of several options considered by the Commission.

“Local boards ensure the ‘local’ is preserved in local government,” Mr Morrison said. “They are an integral component of the council structure. Board members would be elected to speak for residents from defined areas and in turn would govern those areas with their own budgets and certain powers.”

“We found there were many aspects of local government which had worked well till now. But we also recognised there are limitations, inadequacies and challenges. Perhaps most importantly, strong economic and cultural factors inter-connect the region and give it a common future goal. There is a case for change. We have proposed a structure of local government to best meet the needs of the people of the entire region over the next 30 years.

“This proposal offers the greatest opportunity to address the significant future issues facing the region. Wellington must address challenges of investment in infrastructure, changing demographics, the need for economic development, and management of the impact of natural hazards and climate change. These issues are regional in scale and require regional responses.”

Here are some extracts from the Commission’s decision:

The Commission proposes to establish one Wellington council with eight local boards. To be called the Greater Wellington Council, this new council will merge all of the current councils in the region including the Wairarapa. The Greater Wellington Council will have all of the responsibilities of the regional council and all of the city and district councils. Decision-making will be shared between a governing body and the eight local boards.

The Commission found there were many aspects of local government which have worked well till now. But it also recognised there were limitations, inadequacies and challenges. Perhaps most importantly, the Commission identified strong factors which interconnect the region which give it a common future goal. The Commission concluded there is a case for change. It has identified a structure of local government to best meet the needs of the people of the entire Wellington Region over the next 30 years. The Commission is now seeking feedback on our proposal….

Within Wellington Region there are significant local communities of interest with their own sense of place and distinct identity, and their own local amenities, cultural and recreational facilities. But there is a very high degree of interdependence between these communities reflected in high levels of commuting across the region, patterns of retail expenditure and deep-seated economic flows of inputs, products, services and income across Wellington Region, including the Wairarapa. Functionally, the Wairarapa is part of the Wellington economy and an integral part of the way that the people of the region live, work and play.

In the ten years to 2013, Wellington Region performed worse than the national economy on all indicators except employment growth and business unit growth. The Wellington economy is dominated by the government sector. To perform better it needs to diversify and significantly lift its national and international competitiveness. Leadership and the ability to deliver a single plan for the region will be critical to improved competitiveness and better economic outcomes….

Wellington Region is home to just under 500,000 people. Overall the population is expected to age significantly and grow slightly over the next 30 years. But growth will be uneven. Increases will be centred on central, urban Wellington. Population decline is projected for some of the rural parts of the region. Significant reductions in the working-age populations of Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa are also forecast…..

The following issues are particularly relevant to considering the reorganisation of local government:

• the variation in the financial position of the councils and their communities, and the growing gap between them in the future in terms of their ability to meet the needs of their communities due in part to quite inequitable endowments of strategic assets (especially the port and the airport) and equally uneven patterns of expected growth and demographic change
• the particular challenges the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa communities face with forecast declines in their working-age populations, but substantial required investment in infrastructure
• the particular challenges of the Kapiti Coast community, with relatively high level of council debt, significant investment required in both replacing existing and building new infrastructure, and a large proportion of the community on fixed incomes with limited ability to pay
• the need to fund significant renewals in the region’s ageing pipe networks because across the region almost 50% of existing water pipes and around 40% of wastewater pipes are in poor or very poor condition and the largely unbudgeted cost of replacing them is between $1.7 billion and $2.6 billion
• the need for the councils to invest significantly more to increase the resilience of the region’s infrastructure and to manage down hazard risks
• the need to co-ordinate planning and investment to ensure that the region gets the best possible value from its limited resources
• the need to make, fund and implement regional scale decisions in order to deal with the future challenges that the region faces including: transport, urban development, future provision of infrastructure, environmental management, economic development and competitiveness, natural hazards, and climate change
• the extensive attempts that have been made to undertake regional scale decision-making through collaboration, and to deliver services more efficiently through shared services arrangements, and the limited success and high transaction costs of these voluntary initiatives…..

The Commission determined that a Wairarapa unitary authority did not meet the statutory tests for it to be considered to be a “reasonably practicable option” for local government in Wellington.

Alternative applications by Wellington City Council, Hutt City Council, Upper Hutt City Council, and some individuals relied to some degree on the establishment of a Wairarapa unitary authority. Some of these applications proposed multiple unitary authority governance models. These options had other challenges because they presented difficulties in either providing effective catchment-based flooding and water management (clause 11(5)(d) of Schedule 3), or in providing for the alignment of decision-making and funding for issues, or activities that would cross the boundaries of the new unitary authorities (which presented challenges with respect to clauses 11(5)(b) and 11(5)(c) of Schedule 3).

Having concluded that a Wairarapa unitary authority was not a “reasonably practicable option” and that arrangements between multiple unitary authorities in Wellington would be impracticable, the Commission concluded that none of the options that proposed multiple unitary authorities could be considered to be “reasonably practicable options”. The only “reasonably practicable options” that the Commission identified retained one directly elected regional body for Wellington Region.

After a briefing at Parliament this morning, MP Chris Hipkins sent this information via Twitter

The Local Government Commission have completely ignored the overwhelming feedback from Hutt Valley residents opposing a Wellington Super City … Hutt Valley people MUST be given the chance to veto the super city takeover by way of a referendum.

Hutt city councillor Campbell Barry confirmed his concerns, also via Twitter:

Hutt Valley a big loser in this proposal.

The super city process began in May and June last year when the Local Government Commission received two applications for reorganisation of local government in the Wellington region. The first application was made by district councils in the Wairarapa: the Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa councils. The second was made by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The Wairarapa councils asked the Commission to create a unitary authority for the Wairarapa. Their proposal was for a council which would combine the functions of the existing district councils and also take on the regional council functions for the Wairarapa area. This proposal has been rejected.

The regional council sought the creation of another type of unitary authority. It proposed a single unitary authority for the whole region (apart from a small area of Tararua district), with local boards.

The commission travelled around the region to talk to people about their ideas. It held more than 100 meetings with councils and other stakeholders from central government agencies, iwi and hapu. It spoke to major users of council services and infrastructure, such as employers, businesses, community groups and ratepayers groups. It also held public meetings throughout the region.

A unitary authority combines the functions and responsibilities of a city or district council and a regional council. There are six unitary authorities in New Zealand, in Auckland, Gisborne, Nelson, Marlborough and Tasman, and the Chatham Islands.

After today’s announcement, a process of public consultation begins, with submissions open on the draft proposal until March. If approved, the new super city council could come into effect by November 2016.

May 2014: Pro-amalgamation group formed
March 2014: Ray Wallace leads anti-amalgamation meeting
August 2013: Upper Hutt opposes amalgamation
August 2013: Economic report says amalgamation doesn’t stack up
June 2013: Kapiti opposes amalgamation
June 2013: Employers support amalgamation
August 2012: 58% opposed to amalgamation