Herald on Auckland Royal Commission

I agree with a large amount of the NZ Herald editorial on the Royal Commission’s report:

The royal commission on has been as radical as its instigators could have hoped. Under its proposals all existing councils and community boards would be abolished. In their place a single Auckland Council, so named, would be the sole rate-collecting body and repository of all local government power in the region.

And that is a big step forward. One level of rates. One district plan. One set of resourcing consents. One set of bylaws. One Council to decide things (and in the darkness bind them 🙂

Crucially, it would be led by a directly elected mayor. The commission has not listened to arguments that only celebrity dilettantes would be likely to win such a race. It suggests the mayor be invested with a degree of executive power, to appoint a deputy and council committee chairs, establish an administrative office, propose an annual budget and initiate policy for the council’s assent.

That sort of role ought to attract the sort of leader Auckland sorely needs, inspirational and, in the commission’s words, “inclusive in approach and decisive in action”.

Again the proposed powers for the Mayor look very good. The Mayor can not rule by fiat, but the Mayor will have significant authority. What this means is that the Mayor can stand on a platform, and be held accountable for what they achieve or do not achieve.

The person would doubtless lead a ticket of candidates for the 23-seat council, 10 seats elected by the whole region, 10 from wards, two from the Maori electoral roll and one appointed by the tribe with mana whenua status. That composition, though, does not look like a recipe for unity, particularly if there is pressure to use proportional representation for the seats elected across the region.

As I said yesterday I am not a fan of the Maori electoral roll, and mana whenua seats. I do like having the at large seats so not everyone is an area rep.  Personally I would divide the four urban wards into smaller wards so each ward has only one Councillor from it. Incidentially the elections will be FPP.

Today’s four cities of Manukau, North Shore, Auckland and Waitakere, and the districts of Rodney and a redrawn Franklin would be wards of the council. Each city would fill two seats and the districts one each. The six would also keep their own elected Local Councils, so called, but they would be comparable to today’s community boards.

On page 322 of the Commission’s report (yes I am reading all 800 pages) they look at an alternative to six local Councils – namely a 20 Council model and 11 Council model. They say the 20 model Council would cost too much and 20 local Councils would be too hard for the Auckland Council to support and manage. But their 11 Council model is well worth considering as an alternative to their six Council model. With 11 local Councils (and I would call them Community Boards) you would have:

  1. Hibiscus-Albany
  2. North Harbour
  3. Waitakere
  4. Auckland West
  5. Auckland North
  6. Auckland East
  7. Howick-Pakuranga
  8. Manurewa-Papkura
  9. Manukau Central
  10. North Rural
  11. South Rural

This gets away from the new Councils being seen as similiar the existing Councils, and brings them closer to the community. Each local Council would have population ranging from 54,000 to 198,000. Under the six Council model they range up to 397,000.

They would be subservient to the Auckland Council, financed by it to oversee the delivery of its services, with certain functions spelled out by Parliament and others delegated by the parent council. There would be no third tier of local representation. Today’s suburban community boards would disappear.

The royal commission was asked to satisfy two divergent aims: to give Auckland unity and to keep decision-making reasonably close to the people concerned. If it has erred, it is in the direction of unity. Its prospectus for the Auckland Council offers all the power and cohesion that is lacking in the present regional set-up. But some will question whether the existing cities and districts are as small as community representation need be.

I agree they are not. I think the 11 council proposal is superior to having just six Councils. And even the Royal Commission didn’t see much differences between six and 11. They did make a strong case against 20.

The commission pretends they would be more than community boards. “They will be a new type of body – a local representative body, which operates within a larger local authority and which provides services and acts as an advocate for the residents …” It is describing a community board.

To be fair, they will also have powers to hear resource consents etc.

Local councils will be further reduced in the public eye by their lack of a directly elected leader. Each will be chaired by someone elected by the council. The commission has rather neatly turned their submissions against “celebrity elections” on themselves.

I think it is more having just one directly elected leader for the Region.

But it is the powers of the proposed Auckland Council and its mayor that deserve most attention.

The commission proposes they go far beyond water mains, drains, land use and transport planning to encompass electricity supply, broadband, telecommunications, social and economic development.

The nervousness of central Government at some of the proposals can be imagined. Auckland is being offered a prescription for a level of self-government greater than any New Zealand city has known. It is a plan that assumes there are capable city leaders ready to step up to the platform the commission has designed. Some of those who instigated the exercise may have to stand for election to prove it has been worthwhile.

I think the ambitions of having the Auckland Council also take on a role for social well-being may be too ambitious – at least for now. I would be tempted to advocate that you don’t expand the aims of the Council for now, so they can initially concenrate on a smooth transition, and making sure current services get done well. And maybe five years or so down the track look at whether the Council is doing well enough to take on additional responsibilities.

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