Dom Post on Wellington Councils

February 27th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

“Turkeys,” Richard Prebble once observed, “don’t vote for an early Christmas.” The former Labour Cabinet minister and ACT leader was commenting on the improbability of politicians voting to reduce the size of Parliament, but his words hold just as true for local body politicians contemplating a potential shakeup of local government.

Why would the plethora of mayors and councillors in the region act to do themselves out of jobs? The answer is they won’t.

Just as many Mayors in Auckland were against the Auckland reforms.

If the region is to follow Auckland’s example and amalgamate its nine councils into a single body, it will be in spite of local government politicians not because of them. With a handful of notable exceptions, Greater Wellington regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde prominent among them, the region’s local body politicians have determinedly stonewalled all attempts to initiate change.

The issue goes beyond Wellington also. I am gravitating to the view that two levels of local government is too much for a country our size.  I think unitary authorities are the way of the future, so you don’t have millions wasted in lawsuits, liaison and consultations between regional councils and territorial authorities.

Whether the region would be better served by a single council covering the whole region, or whether it would be better served by two or three unitary councils, is an open question. So is the balance of responsibilities between regionally elected councillors and local community representatives. However, the need for reform is not.

The debate should be about the nature of reform. The status quo is simply ridiculous.

12 Responses to “Dom Post on Wellington Councils”

  1. thepolecat (70 comments) says:

    The piece of the opposite page of that Dom Post editorial titled “Airing the alternatives: round one” is an interesting read.

    The issue of governance in New Zealand seems to be quite topical at the moment. Council reform, electoral reform..

    I happen to think that local councils should be there to manage local issues, and I see the benefit in regional councils for broadly the types of things which they do manage, e.g. Environment Waikaot is a good example of this.

    What seems to be causing inefficiency is a lack of defined roles for local and regional councils.

    Does the Greater Wellington Region need nine local authorities, 87 councillors, eight mayors and 13 regional councillors?

    Perhaps Governor George Grey was right when he said that we should never have got rid of the Provinces.

    Having a Provincial Governor and streamlined ‘federal’ system may have solved many of these issues in the first place.

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  2. thepolecat (70 comments) says:


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  3. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    Sorry. Amalgamation is a knee jerk response to fundamental flaws in the current structure of local government and will only make things worse as more powers flow to a few bureaucrats, while councillors flounder outside their skills, knowledge and experience, while having no accountability. Nick Smith claims he is getting rid of Regional Councils. No he is proposing to get rid of local councils and leave mega-regional councils behind. IT will take 4.5 hours to drive from one end of the proposed Tasman/Nelson mega region to the other. Who wants to stand for council and spend half their life in a car?

    Regional Government should be a technically oriented organization with a mix of Government appointments and elected representative to deal with regional issues such as flood control, the management of soil water and air, and of course reticulation of water, sewage, rubbish and transport.

    The activities of such a Regional Services Agency must be based on sound science and engineering and honest blind funded evidence. Hence the reform should be driven by at least the two Ministers, Steven Joyce and Dr Smith.

    The Local Councils should be based on democratic representation of small communities of interest allowing Local Councils to make their own land use decisions and deal with other matters within their capability.
    The planning functions of both organizations should be curtailed, as originally intended by the RMA – which never mentions planning or zoning. This intention was rapidly eroded by case law but the 2002 amendment to the LGA established the Regional Councils as “master planners” who directed Local Councils what to do on their own patch. THis enabled the green ideologues to seize power and become the “can’ts” who are killing the whole economy.

    Our model should be Switzerland whose people place great emphasis on both efficiency and democracy. The average Swiss Commune (district council) has two thousand people. The average Canton (region) has 135,000 people. Switzerland is one of the most successful economies in the world.

    Maybe small really is beautiful – and we sixties flower power lot had it right all along.

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  4. RRM (12,567 comments) says:

    (1) We must do something!

    (2) Amalgamation is “something”!

    (3) We must do Amalgamation!

    In my mind the people making the case for (1) have done about 28% of their job so far. If what we have now is so bad, why do people find it so hard to explain in what respect it is bad?

    No point discussing (2) or (3), if you haven’t even made a compelling case for (1) yet.
    (Oh and this leftie is in favour of streamlining councils, BTW!)

    Right wing darling Rodney Hide (remember him?) made any number of bold claims about how much money the Auckland “Super City” would save… claims which reality subsequently made lies of…

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  5. Mobile Michael (981 comments) says:

    Right problem – local government dysfunction, but its the wrong question. The real problem is to ask what local government is for. To me, local govrrnment exists to provide services where it is more effective to do than if private entetprise was to do it, and to act as a regulator for the local environment to implement Central Government planning laws with more understanding than Parliament could manage.

    If Wellington has an overhaul then it won’t solve the problems of local government.

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  6. Mark (1,611 comments) says:

    Wellington governance is interesting and I support a unitary authority model however the driver for wellington reform is a reaction to concerns about the national political influence of Auckland under its new model rather than a rational view of the benefits or otherwise of a unitary authority. National under Key is Auckland centric in any event so it is difficult to know whether the influence that Auckland now has would not have occured anyway. I fail to see the hurry. There are lessons still to be learned from the Auckland experience and a couple of years may in fact provide some valuable insights into the problems as they emerge.

    So change, probably. Haste for change should be carefully thought through. ( at least till Pepperil and Ritchie retire ;))

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  7. jonno1 (106 comments) says:

    Owen McShane (12.37) is dead right.

    In a former life, whenever I wanted to build a retaining wall or extend my house or whatever, I sketched up some plans, did some calcs if needed (or copied from the Winstones book), and popped down to see the Borough Engineer at the Glen Eden Borough Council.

    He would peruse the plans, maybe make a couple of suggestions, and sign it off. All done by lunchtime. There might have been a filing fee, but if so it was small.

    Of course, in theory the supercity idea would work if there was a simple set of rules to follow, coupled with a bit of common-sense discretion. I had an experience with Auckland City where I was spanning a couple of council sewers (on my property) so needed piling to protect them – no problem with that. My structural engineer suggested three piles, one each side & one in the middle. This was rejected as the sewer separation was such that the middle pile wouldn’t have the requisite clearance from each of the sewers. So we left it out, and a better (and more expensive) engineering solution was replaced by a bureaucratic decision made by a paper-pusher. Go figure.

    I doubt if much has changed with the new Auckland City.

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  8. moaningmoa (69 comments) says:

    Ironically the analogy is more true than one initially thinks… but it is not the mayors and Councils that would be the turkeys voting for an early christmas, in amalgamating.

    It would be the residents of the outer cities, such as Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Kapiti, and Waiarapa.

    Think how often we read of excess spending in Wellington, about the use of spy cars, about the favouring of the “golden mile” at the expense of the outer shopping areas such as Johnsonville, about retail unfriendly policies, and so on.

    Compare to how often you read about Upper Hutt City Council’s excesses…. oh wait, you don’t read about that, and why? Because Upper Hutt Council may not be perfect, but it “sticks to it’s knitting”.

    It is efficient, not spendthrift, works within it’s budget…. and you want us to amalgamate with a bunch of spendthrifts for whom the concept of “balanced books” is unknown phrase??

    Let alone the fact, that we would slowly see the transplantation of key services and venues into Wellington City 40km and 45-60 minutes away.

    No, Turkeys don’t vote for an early Xmas, but those turkeys aren’t just the bureaucrats, but also the residents.

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  9. gazzmaniac (2,842 comments) says:

    People in Otaki already complain about having to answer to Paraparaumu. Especially about water supply, which was fixed for the old Borough of Otaki with a series of boreholes in the 1980s (that could be either paid for up front by residents or added to their rates for 20 years, and are now paid for.) The rest of the Kapiti Coast has water supply issues, there are coast-wide water restrictions (unnecessary in Otaki but they have to be seen to be doing something) and the council wants the whole coast to pay for something that Otaki doesn’t need. The district plan even mandates water tanks on all new homes (unnecessary in Otaki again) and they’re talking about bringing in meters because the good people of Paraparaumu haven’t paid for the infrastructure of a growing community.

    It will only get worse with any amalgamation with Wellington.

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  10. wiseowl (2,280 comments) says:

    The renewed discussion about local government and the ‘let’s get rid of regional councils’ bandwagon is led by many who have no understanding of local government,how it works,its role and importantly the role of regional councils.Regional councils were created around ‘catchments’ from the catchment board days.It may not be sexy but these are as important today as they were in 1989.
    Other ‘regional’ aspects were pest control as pests don’t observe TLA boundaries and other truly ‘regional’ ENVIRONMENTAL issues. They are NOT a second tier of government and they should not duplicate the functions of local authorities.
    People like Fran Wilde should never be elected to regional council and this situation is replicated around the country where electors have placed the wrong people on their councils.
    Many regional councillors and most local authority councillors do not understand what a regional councils role is or the true importance of its position in governing our country.
    What is needed is changes to the Local Government Act 2002. These changes are alluded to in this weeks column on (coincidental?)
    Roles of councils need to be clear ,focused and the stupid ‘power of general competence’ turned off.
    Amalgamation of councils will bring nothing but higher rates and more pain.

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  11. freedom101 (733 comments) says:

    Yet again Lower Hutt’s proposed rates increase is well below inflation: 1.8% for the 2012/13 year. This is on top of several years of similar performance. At the same time the yearly NRB survey shows resident satisfaction at an all time high. Exactly what problem are we trying to fix? Various claims are made about ‘dysfunction’ of local government. Why on earth would Hutt residents want to amalgamate with Wellington when the Hutt City Council is performing so well?

    I agree that the Regional Council’s activities could be absorbed by the various councils in the region to create a series of unitary councils. That would make sense, but amalgamation for amalgamation’s sake makes no sense.

    One possible amalgamation could be Upper and Lower Hutt, with the council being run out of the Upper Hutt admin centre, saving Hutt residents over $20m which they are intending to spend on upgrading their admin building. Now that’s a real saving, and Upper Hutt wouldn’t have to worry about being ‘taken over’ if the council was based up there.

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  12. Ross Nixon (672 comments) says:

    jonno1 (22) Says:
    February 27th, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Owen McShane (12.37) is dead right.

    Yes, sadly. RIP Owen McShane (1941 – 06/03/12)

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