Sir Wira Gardiner: Working together for a stronger region
Since being appointed as chairman of the Local Government Commission last August, and having made it a priority to meet with councillors, mayors, chairs, chief executives and staff across the Wellington region, I have been impressed with how conscientious and passionate they are about making this region a better place to live and work.
We have been talking together because while last year the Wellington region public made it clear they didn't want a super-city, about 40 per cent of people who made submissions wanted improvements to local government.
Good quality local decision-making was important, but so were cost-effective services and sensible provision of infrastructure.
This is too big a constituency to ignore.
Taking all of the responses on board the commission decided not to proceed with amalgamation. People did not support this. We listened.
Instead, as part of an ongoing reorganisation process, we've been openly meeting with council leaders and others to identify with them how together we can further strengthen Wellington communities.
We all agree we need to look closely at how population changes, technological innovation, and environmental considerations affect, for example, how the rubbish is collected, the roads are planned, the rates are calculated, and growth is managed.
Specifically, we've been talking about whether the management of the big infrastructure activities, like roads and public transport, which impact on the region's growth and development, can be bolstered.
When the world is moving rapidly around you, you can't afford to stand still.
And if changes can be made to improve efficiencies, help control costs and strengthen the region, what possible range of options are there to effect such changes, and to help address the challenges and opportunities the Wellington area, like most others, faces?
Some things that have been talked about in local government circles are collaborating with neighbouring councils to offer residents a joined-up service, or considering whether the responsibilities for certain activities sit with the right agencies.
The Government has signalled it intends to introduce legislation to Parliament this year to make it easier for councils to take up preferences that may not at present be possible, and to help initiatives that promote better local government.
In our discussions with the Wellington Region Mayoral Forum, councillors, and chief executives, we are building on the existing culture of Wellington communities co-operating that saw the creation of Wellington Water and the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA).
We have also been talking with Wairarapa Mayors, councils and the regional council about possibilities for local government arrangements in the area, and hope to get initial input into this process at public meetings in the near future.
In terms of infrastructure, the Mayoral Forum and the commission have prioritised transport, and are also looking at the potential for more joint planning across the region – initiatives that need not disrupt council structures.
Everybody uses the roads or has to travel within the region for work or leisure, many depend on public transport, and most of us agree a modern efficient transport network is critical to the region's health and wealth.
We aim to have proposed options on our directions of travel to share with the public, and to get your input and feedback, over the next few months.
Sir Wira Gardiner is Chair of the Local Government Commission, an independent statutory body charged with promoting good local government and handling applications for local government reorganisation.
Next week: Upper Hutt Mayor and chairman of the Wellington Region Mayoral Forum, Wayne Guppy, gives the forum's perspective on how council collaboration strengthens the region, while other mayors identify their priorities.
- The Dominion Post