Making local government count

South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples, left, and Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson celebrate last year, after it was ...

South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples, left, and Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson celebrate last year, after it was confirmed Wairarapa will not become part of a Wellington-based super-city.

Wellington councils have made progress by working together but more must be done to strengthen the region, says Wayne Guppy.

OPINION: As local government leaders, we are always looking for ways to improve the lifestyles, the opportunities, the wealth, and the future health of our communities. The public consultation over Wellington local government reorganisation last year helped sharpen that focus.

Most said they wanted to keep their own mayors and councils, but many also said we could do better; not just in the way we organise ourselves but in the delivery of value-for-money infrastructure and services.

We have heard that and are acting on it. We have a responsibility to do this.

As mayors we represent distinct communities, and will make important local decisions accordingly. But as a region we are inextricably connected, our fortunes as adjoining cities and communities interdependent.

This is why we have a Wellington Region Mayoral Forum, to which the eight mayors and the regional council chair belong: to consider the common issues we face and to progress the positive things we can do to strengthen the region.

While we do have a track record of working together as councils, we must continue to build the living standards, the economic growth, and the status of the Wellington region as a fantastic place to live, work and raise families by collaborating on initiatives where practicable and appropriate.

To help meet some of these needs and challenges we have been liaising with the Local Government Commission. Its new approach of working alongside local government leaders and councils to enable good local government is helping make the necessary headway.

As part of the ongoing reorganisation initiative, together we have identified roading and public transport, and more joint planning, as two of the areas in which we can investigate potential savings, efficiencies and benefits to the region.

That work is now progressing: when the individual councils have had time to consider it, we will be talking to the public about possible options.

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In the Wairarapa, which most people recognise has a special character with closely aligned interests, and where councils have worked together on joint initiatives for some years, separate discussions are under way to look at a further wide range of options, with plans to talk with the community soon.

But this is not part of an attempt to revive a region-wide amalgamation. The commission has said this is off the table – although smaller adjoining communities can still look into this if there is solid support for it. The Government says it has no plans to legislate for it. More importantly, most of you said you did not want it.

We are investigating issues such as regional transport and joint planning because it is the right thing to do and because the people who elected us would expect us to. As community leaders we have the responsibility and the opportunity to help secure a more certain and prosperous future for the Wellington region and all the people who live in it.

Wayne Guppy is chair of the Wellington Region Mayoral Forum and Mayor of Upper Hutt.

Next week: What next for the Wairarapa? The Mayors of Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa discuss local government in their area.

What the other mayors say

Ray Wallace, Mayor, Lower Hutt: "Meaningful local democracy is paramount, with smart regional co-operation where it makes sense to share services, such as water and transport. Those shared entities need to remain accountable to the ratepayers."

Nick Leggett, Mayor, Porirua: "The 'Big Bang' approach failed for Wellington. That doesn't mean that the need for the region to do better has gone away. We need to investigate smaller council amalgamations and push services together to improve decisions, increase effectiveness of services and infrastructure so our region has a platform for progress and growth." 

Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor, Wellington: "Together we can work regionally, nationally and internationally to build resilience into our transport, buildings and coastal planning. My priorities for strengthening the Wellington region are the airport extension, the movie museum, affordable housing and our unique biodiversity." 

Ross Church, Mayor, Kapiti Coast: "My council and I are keen to see greater collaboration that not only strengthens the region as a whole but also enhances the communities within it."

Chris Laidlaw, Chairman, Greater Wellington Regional Council: "Our main priority is to future-proof the region. This is the regional council's basic responsibility and it's fundamental to the achievement of resilient, connected and prosperous communities while preserving our natural capital."

Lyn Patterson, Mayor, Masterton: "The relationship with the Wellington councils is extremely important for the Wairarapa region and our future prosperity is closely linked with the capital and vice versa.  We will continue to look for opportunities to improve services and efficiencies by working collaboratively whilst ensuring that we retain local democracy and decision making, which are paramount."

John Booth, Mayor, Carterton: "My council and I continue to support change as long as it will improve the effectiveness of local government in Wairarapa. We're looking forward to talking to our communities about some new options that haven't been part of previous debates. We are also mindful of our important connections with the rest of the Wellington region."

Adrienne Staples, Mayor, South Wairarapa: "South Wairarapa District Council believes this is an opportunity to think outside the square and deliver local government services in new ways.  Simply amalgamating councils by shifting lines on a map will not make the necessary difference."

 - The Dominion Post


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