Greetings and welcome to the latest Local Government Commission newsletter. The newsletter provides information about the work of the Commission and aims to contribute to discussion of local government structures and good practice generally. Details for how to unsubscribe or how to contact us for more information can be found at the end of the newsletter.
A MESSAGE FROM SIR WIRA GARDINER, KNZM, (CHAIR)
Wairarapa District Council – in the hands of the people
In mid-July, having listened to the community, studied the evidence, and deliberated at great length, the Commission issued a final proposal for a Wairarapa District Council, combining the existing South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton districts.
The community can now request a poll, which will place the decision on whether or not the proposal goes ahead squarely where it belongs – with the people of the Wairarapa. This is a defining opportunity for the district to shape its own future, and the Commission hopes that the community will take it up by both calling for a poll, and voting in it.
Two years ago we started out on a new approach to working with councils and communities – a more collaborative and flexible approach than previously. This new approach, and the good will with which the Wairarapa community responded to it, has resulted in a stronger proposal, better designed to reflect the Wairarapa’s unique communities and circumstances.
Regardless of its ultimate fate, we feel very satisfied with the proposal and grateful to the many people whose constructive engagement got us to this position: individuals from the community, community and business groups, Mayors, councillors and council staff.
While there has been evidence of community support for joining the three councils, the Commission’s role has also been to assess whether the amalgamation would serve “good local government’’. Will it enable democratic local decision-making and action? Will it provide more effective and efficient local government? After considering the evidence, the answer to both these questions has been “yes’’.
Wairarapa community views on a proposed Wairarapa District Council May 2017 (n=1,000, +/-3.1%)
While many Wairarapa people feel a strong sense of identity with their town or rural locality, the Wairarapa is one economy, one job market, one sporting and arts community, and a nationally recognised identity. Having local government at a whole of Wairarapa scale will create opportunities for local decision-making and action that are missed or held back by the current division into three councils.
Going from three small councils to one medium-sized one will mean Wairarapa local government has the scale and capacity to be more resilient, and better deal with future challenges. You will all be familiar with the challenges of dealing with climate change, more demanding regulatory requirements and increasing public expectations about the quality of infrastructure and the environment, with staff spread thinly across the wide range of council responsibilities.
There are of course disadvantages including fewer councillors per capita, the uncertainty of a transition and fewer Wairarapa members on the Regional Transport Committee. However, it is now up to the community to weigh up these disadvantages and the advantages, and make the choice whether three councils or one is best for the Wairarapa.
Our thanks to Leigh Auton
In late April, Leigh Auton resigned from the Commission. Leigh, who had been a highly professional Commissioner for the Local Government Commission since August 2015, has extensive local government experience and continued to be in demand as a consultant in the sector during his time with us. Earlier this year he accepted a role as facilitator of the Auckland Council’s Governance Review process and felt it appropriate to withdraw from the Commission which is active in the Auckland Council area.
We wish to put on record our sincere thanks to Leigh for the expertise, professionalism and sound guidance that he brought to his role on the Commission, and in particular to his contributions to work on local government issues in Northland.
The Local Government Act Amendment Bill
The Better Local Services reforms, which have been progressed through the second reading stage in Parliament, go into abeyance pending the final committee stage. This now cannot take place until after the election. The timing and final shape of the Bill will of course depend on the priorities of the incoming Government. While the reforms, were they to become law, could affect our future work programme, it remains business as usual here at the Commission. We will continue to process the reorganisation applications before us according to the existing legislation; and we will continue to engage in a transparent, collaborative and constructive manner with the local government sector so that we can jointly work towards good local government for communities across the country. Nāku noa, nā
The Commission has continued to progress the Auckland reorganisation process in which it is required to identify the “reasonably practicable options’’ and, if there is more than one, the “preferred option’’ for local government in the area.
This process was initiated by an application from the Northern Action Group for a unitary council for North Rodney. This was followed by an application from Our Waiheke for a unitary council for Waiheke Island. The two applications, along with up to 37 other alternative proposals, are being processed together, with the whole of Auckland Council determined to be the affected area. As part of the process, the Commission asked consultants Morrison Low to conduct a financial and technical analysis of a number of potential options.
In late March the Commission invited those who sent in alternative proposals to a briefing on the assessment framework and assumptions that would underpin Morrison Low’s work, seeking feedback from those who attended. In mid-July the Commission provided the alternative proposers and relevant councils with Morrison Low’s report ahead of meetings held on 4 August in Auckland to give attendees an opportunity to provide feedback on the report. Fifteen stakeholders attended the Waiheke meeting and 22 attended the Rodney meeting.
The Morrison Low report is just one input into the Commission’s decision-making process. The Commission will also consider other matters set out in the governing legislation (LGA 2002, Schedule 3) such as communities of interest and democratic implications, in its determination of the preferred option. Feedback received during this process will help inform advice to the Commissioners.
A decision on this is anticipated later in the year. If the preferred option is not the status quo, the Commission will prepare a draft proposal for public consultation.
Wairarapa and Wellington
After two years of working with Wairarapa communities, the Commission released a final proposal for a Wairarapa District Council in mid-July. The final proposal has the following key features:
The new council would have a mayor and 12 councillors. The mayor would be elected by voters across the Wairarapa district and councillors would be elected by voters in seven wards, including two rural wards.
There would be five community boards: Featherston, Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton. Each board would have four or five elected community board members representing the respective wards.
The new Wairarapa District Council would be a territorial authority. The Wairarapa would remain part of the Wellington region with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) continuing its current roles and responsibilities. There would be a new Wairarapa Committee of the GWRC to strengthen Wairarapa input into regional council issues affecting the district.
For at least five years, the new council would be required to maintain area offices in Martinborough, Carterton and Masterton. Staff would continue to be located in the area offices to ensure people can access council services across the Wairarapa. The address for service (“principal office’’) for the new council would be Masterton.
If electors request a poll and if a simple majority supports the proposal, the new Wairarapa Council could be elected in late 2018, at the earliest, and would serve an initial four-year term.
For more information on the final proposal and its advantages and disadvantages go to www.lgc.govt.nz
The Commission now awaits a petition/s for a poll. The outcome of the poll determines whether the proposal goes ahead or not. If there is no valid petition lodged with the Commission by 11 October, the proposal proceeds by default.
Getting community engagement on local government issues can sometimes be challenging but Wairarapa amalgamation discussions generated a lot of interest and community debate. A thousand Wairarapa residents were asked about their awareness and satisfaction with the Commission’s process in the Wairarapa in an independent, scientifically designed survey in May 2017.
The results showed high levels of awareness of the Commission’s work in the Wairarapa at 87 per cent of the respondents. Just over a quarter (28 per cent) said they had been closely following the process. Just under half of the survey respondents agreed that the process had been carried fairly; 15 per cent disagreed. Trust in those organising the process was slightly lower at 42 per cent agreement and 24 per cent disagreement. Click here for more information on the communities’ perceptions of the Commission’s performance in the Wairarapa.
Community perception of Commission’s work in the Wairarapa.
The West Coast local government reorganisation process continues with the Commission working to identify the reasonably practicable options for local government arrangements on the West Coast, and then to determine its preferred option. The reasonably practicable options must include the status quo.
Consultants have been engaged to assist in this process, particularly in respect of the financial and operational analysis of possible options. The outcome of this work, along with the Commission’s own “communities of interest’’ work, and any other investigations the Commission might want to undertake, will feed into consolidated advice to the Commissioners, who will make a decision as to the preferred option. The Commission hopes to be in a position to announce the outcome later in the year.
If the Commission settles on an option that is not the status quo, it would then need to prepare a draft proposal for local government reorganisation on the West Coast and consult with the community on that. Following consultation and feedback, it would make a decision whether to proceed to issue a final proposal or halt the process. If it issued a final proposal to make structural changes to local government arrangements, the community would have the opportunity to call for a poll and vote on it.
At the same time as processing the reorganisation application, the Commission has worked alongside West Coast councils on joint RMA planning and regional transport arrangements, funding reports on each. It is encouraged to see that the councils have, of their own accord, begun to explore the option of a joint district plan for West Coast.
The Commission continues to consider next steps for Northland and is awaiting an update on progress in implementing shared services. The Commission will then consider what comment it may wish to make on the progress made, offer recommendations to councils on the challenges yet to be grappled with and seek a joint response from the councils.
Local Government Commission Mana Kāwanatanga Ā Rohe PO Box 5362 Wellington 6140 New Zealand Phone: +64 4 4602228 Fax: +64 4 4940501 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.lgc.govt.nz
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