OPINION: More three-quarters of those who respond to a Wellington City Council request for their opinions on local government amalgamation say they favour change, and mayor Celia Wade-Brown concludes opinion is ''fairly evenly divided''. If ever proof was needed that the future of the Wellington region is too important to be entrusted to local body politicians, here it is.
Yes, opinion among those who submitted to the council was ''fairly evenly divided'', but it was not divided between those who favoured the ''status quo'' and those who favoured change, as claimed by the mayor, but between those who favoured one form of change and those who favoured others.
Of the 1209 individuals and organisations which responded to the council's request for feedback, just 23 per cent wanted to stick with things the way they are. The other 77 per cent wanted change of some sort.
Of those who expressed a particular preference, just a quarter opted for the model favoured by the region's locally elected representatives - greater co-operation between the region's existing nine councils. The remainder favoured merging the existing councils into either one, two or three larger councils, or some other arrangement altogether.
The consultative exercise is just part of a process that will continue with public hearings this month, but it is clear that if the over-governed region is to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, the momentum will have to come from outside council chambers.
Of the nine councils which jointly commissioned a review of regional governance in 2010, just two - Greater Wellington and Porirua City Council - acted to advance the issue by establishing an independent panel, chaired by former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, to assess the options.
The remainder are passively resisting any hint of change that could diminish the number of paid jobs on offer for elected councillors.
Given the Government's stated desire of simplifying local body arrangements across the country, that is not only short-sighted but it runs counter to the region's interests.
Wellington is not Auckland. It does not suffer from the regional dysfunctionalism that persuaded Labour and National they had no choice but to merge Auckland's feuding councils into a single body. But the Wellington region, which extends up the Kapiti Coast and across the Rimutakas to Wairarapa, is blighted by parochial decision-making and unnecessary duplication of effort.
What's more, it is now competing, for the first time, against a united Auckland for public and private investment. If the region does not take the opportunity offered by the establishment of the review panel to decide its own future, it risks having change imposed upon it by central government, or, worse, subsiding into irrelevance as Auckland marches ahead.
Ms Wade-Brown should prick up her ears and listen to what submitters actually told her council.
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