Should Wellington's councils merge to become a super-city?
Super-City opponents have won a small victory against unwanted amalgamation.
The country's town and district councils agreed this week to lobby the Government for protection from region-wide referendums that might favour super-cities. The vote was passed at a Local Government New Zealand conference in Nelson.
Hutt City Council spearheaded the policy change, supported by Napier, Wairoa, Central Hawke's Bay and Rotorua councils.
It was likely Wellington's amalgamation debate would be decided by a referendum, and smaller cities in opposition would have their votes swamped by larger populations supportive of a super-city, Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said. "The current law is fundamentally flawed."
If the new policy became law, each council would run its own binding referendum, allowing smaller cities to be heard alongside larger ones, Wallace said.
"They get to have a say in the final makeup of the region."
The Local Government Commission was investigating local government reorganisation in Wellington, Hawke's Bay and the Far North. That work must cease until the costs and benefits of Auckland's 2010 amalgamation were properly considered, councils voted as part of the policy change.
Whenever amalgamation was recommended, independent experts must confirm its benefits outweighed the cost, the policy continued.
Wallace was confident the law changes would be adopted, despite Local Government Minister Paula Bennett warning the conference that no sweeping law changes were on the cards.
The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Bennett had promised in the past that no region would be forced to amalgamate, Wallace said, a position Bennett reiterated yesterday.
"Amalgamation of councils is not part of our agenda," she said. "It is completely up to local people to determine how they want their local authorities organised. We changed the legislation to simplify the process for reorganisation of local councils, however."
While current law allowed regions to determine their future, individual cities could not, Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said.
The specifics of the policy voted this week had not yet been addressed by central government, and with Parliament rising next week, lobbying would have to wait until September, Yule said.
MAYOR QUESTIONT LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMISSION SECRECY
The transparency of the Local Government Commission was called into question by the country's councils this week. Councils voted at a Nelson conference to subject the commission to Official Information Act requests. Local Government New Zealand planned to lobby the government on this point after the election, said president Lawrence Yule.
The public deserved to know how the commission made its decisions, Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said. The body had refused to answer questions Wallace had asked it about decision-making in Northland and Hawke's Bay, he claimed.
"It doesn't build a good, trusting relationship when the answer is no, no, no, all the time," he said.
A commission spokeswoman said letters, including Wallace's, were always answered and many documents and reports were published on its website.
- The Dominion Post
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