Wellington Scoop

Local government changes are undemocratic, warns Celia Wade-Brown

Media release from Wellington City Council
“Proposed changes to the Local Government Act are ill-defined and undemocratic,” says Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown . They are likely to put at risk the things that most Wellingtonians hold dear – whether it’s preparation and participation in events like Rugby World Cup, the International Festival of the Arts, the Rugby Sevens or the support of tenants in our social housing.

The changes could seriously erode local representation and democracy, while simultaneously barring commonly-accepted functions of local government to promote and enhance the public good, says Mayor Wade-Brown.

Wellington City Council has released its draft submission to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill, which will be debated at the Strategy and Policy Committee meeting on 28 June.

The submission has been posted on the Council’s website here.

The Local Government and Environment Select Committee has announced that submissions are due to close on 26 July, and is expected to report back to the House in October.

Mayor Wade-Brown says the draft submission sends a clear message that the Government’s proposals are ill-considered.

She adds that the Regulatory Impact Statement, which accompanies the Bill, is damning in its assessment. “It says the Department of Internal Affairs considers there is limited evidence to inform the development of the proposals in the Bill and the timeframe has restricted its ability to assess its impacts.

“In other words there is a strong likelihood that the ‘problems’ with local government as articulated in the Bill may not exist and that there’s no guarantee changes proposed are an improvement.

“The Bill seems to respond to isolated examples of controversial council activities – like the running of a Lotto shop or the V8s in Hamilton – and then tars the whole local-government sector with the same brush.”

She says the Bill represents a marked shift in the constitutional arrangements for local government. “The self-determination granted to communities under the Local Government Act 2002 will be severely constrained. Instead of the broad brush of a quadruple bottom line – the ‘four wellbeings’ – within which each community can choose its outcomes, the aspirations are limited.”

The draft submission also addresses other key elements of the Bill:

• Many of the principles underpinning the framework are loosely defined in the Bill. This will lead to uncertainty within local government, and potentially increase litigation. There is no clarity about the division of responsibilities between regional and territorial authorities.

• Caps on rates increases could lead to the deferral of core infrastructure spend around the country, meaning necessary projects such as the Moa Point sewage works that have enabled cleaner surfing, swimming and a marine reserve would be unlikely to proceed. Given the state of New Zealand ’s rivers there are clearly councils that still need to implement good sewage systems.

• The Bill shifts the focus from community outcomes to the ‘least-cost’ delivery of services, it substantially reduces the requirement for input from the community and the need for consultation and cuts at local procurement or the FairTrade status that Wellington , Dunedin and Auckland have committed to.

• The Bill allows for local authorities to be reorganised (amalgamated) without a poll being held and any opportunity to petition for a poll is constrained. This limits the opportunity for communities to have their say on local governance.

“ Wellington is the coolest little capital in the world. Generations of hotly debated planning and investment has provided a city that is compact, cosmopolitan with a vibrant heart, new businesses with a technological edge, a beautiful waterfront, regenerating forest reserves, public art and exciting events. What Wellington needs is community involvement in decisions, not hierarchical limitations from central government,” she says.