Upper Hutt deputy mayor quits to fight super city plans

Upper Hutt deputy mayor Peter McCardle is to stand down from local body politics to focus his attention on fighting a regional council takeover of the city.

A panel appointed by Wellington Regional Council and chaired by Sir Geoffrey Palmer has proposed a two-tier council system, with a strengthened regional council operating over the top of local councils.

Mr McCardle said that would disadvantage Hutt Valley residents and he would stand down next year to concentrate on opposing it, and to avoid any suggestion he was protecting a vested interest.

"On behalf of the 145,000 Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt residents whose councils have low rates and low debt, we must put up a superior option to the Local Government Commission to replace their takeover proposal.

"Their proposal will mean higher rates, more debt [even] forgetting the regional council's poor track record with the river and trains," he said.

However, a regional council spokesman refuted any suggestion the river or the trains had been mismanaged.

He said the council had modernised the train fleet, improving reliability markedly.

Pollution in the Hutt River had resulted from agricultural discharges, urban rain run-off or sewage discharges, all of which were the responsibility of city councils, not the regional council, he said.

Mr McCardle was elected as a National Party Member of Parliament in 1990, representing Heretaunga.

He defeated Labour's Minister of Justice, Bill Jeffries.

Mr McCardle was re-elected in 1993. He switched to New Zealand First in 1996 and served as Minister of Employment in the coalition government. He left Parliament in 1999 and headed the ACT Party's parliamentary research unit.

In 2001 he was elected to Upper Hutt City Council and to the Hutt Valley District Health Board and has been on the council ever since.

Mr McCardle resigned from the district health board in 2008 to take up a position in the office of Minister of Health Tony Ryall.

Regional council disputes criticism

A combined Upper and Lower Hutt city council carrying the roles of both city and regional authorities would be cheaper and more effective than the two-tier system suggested by Sir Geoffrey Palmer's governance panel.

That is according to departing Upper Hutt deputy mayor Peter McCardle.

Regional functions such as planning and public transport would be handled by council-controlled organisations or joint committees, he said.

"The detailed work is still to be done over the next several weeks but I am confident the unitary model is the best for the region and for Upper Hutt, especially with our control over our rates, debt, our trains, and river," Mr McCardle said.

Because the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa councils would all put forward unitary council submissions to the Local Government Commission their proposals would have a lot of strength, he said.

"What I can't get over is that here is a single council who don't have a good track record with river or public transport," he said.

"I won't go into detail but I wouldn't say the public of the Hutt Valley would say the running of the train services has been a success over the last year, with delays and so forth."

Regional council economic well- being committee chairman Peter Glensor disputed Mr McCardle's claims the river and trains were managed poorly.

"The Hutt Valley is the most densely populated river valley in New Zealand," he said.

Accordingly the council had made a massive investment in flood protection work at the highest standard in New Zealand, he said.

The river was fed by five tributaries, four of which were water catchments, maintained in pristine condition, and the fifth was Mangaroa River - the source of most pollution.

"It is Upper Hutt City Council and its plans and developments in Mangaroa Valley that we need to be talking about," he said.

The regional council agreed to take over ownership of Wellington's urban trains and stations in March, 2011.

"Now we have a fleet of modern trains in place and a substantial upgrade of the network," Mr Glensor said.

On-time reliability was consistently above 90 per cent.

"I refute completely that we have not performed well in terms of public transport. Upper Hutt is one of the key beneficiaries," he said.

Mr Glensor also said that the half-and-half regional-local division of flood protection costs would disappear under Mr McCardle's proposal to split the region into three unitary councils.

Hutt Valley residents were likely to be left with a much larger bill.

A quarter of public transport costs were charged to Wellington's central business district and that was also likely to be re-negotiated to the Hutt Valley's disadvantage, he said.

Upper Hutt Leader