Wellington City Council signs up to amalgamation forum

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 06:50 07/12/2012

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A new regional working party to negotiate an amalgamation proposal will include Wellington City Council - despite some councillors fearing it would mean them kowtowing to other councils.

The strategy and policy committee voted yesterday to join the working party, after an invitation from Greater Wellington regional council and Porirua City Council.

Four voted against, arguing it was bending to the will of other parties. Iona Pannett said it was not a joint working party, "it is the working party of Greater Wellington, Porirua and Kapiti".

Those councils had not shifted positions. "Why should we dance to the tune of other councils?"

But those in favour said it was better to be at the table influencing discussion.

Porirua City Council also voted yesterday to join the working party. Kapiti Coast District Council agreed to participate last week.

The working party will aim to submit an amalgamation proposal to the Local Government Commission early next year.

It comes as the three Wairarapa councils seek public feedback on a proposal to form a unitary authority, and the Hutt councils consider forming a separate council.

Greater Wellington and Porirua have been advocating a two- tier format, with a region-wide council and a second level of local councils or boards, while Wellington officers advocate a single-tier model.

But Wellington City Council officers said there were enough similarities between the two structures that Wellington should join the working party.

"If we don't join that working party . . . we stand alone, and I think that's a very bad position to be in," Ian McKinnon argued.

He disagreed that joining the party would be dancing to the tune of other councils. "We join it because we're then part of what's evolving."

John Morrison said the council would be burying its head in the sand if it opted out of the working party.

"I'd rather be in the tent discussing things, than throwing rocks on it . . . If you lean over and leave your head in the sand, it leaves a certain part of your body very exposed."

But Helene Ritchie said the council was taking the first step towards "abolishing Wellington City Council", which it did not have a mandate to do.

She moved that a referendum on a super-city be held at next year's local body election, saying it would establish what the public's position was.

Councillors instead adopted a modified version from Andy Foster that the committee "confirms the council's view that a poll or referendum be held, ideally at the next local body election, on the issue of local government reform".

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Greater Wellington regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde welcomed Wellington's decision to join the working party. The group would not be run by any single council, she said.

"It belongs to everybody who's in it."

Meanwhile, stakeholders including Federated Farmers representatives met members of the Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party yesterday to discuss concerns that moves towards a single authority were being rushed.

"This is not about the funding policy from the past. It is about the cost to ratepayers in the future if we adopt a unitary authority versus any other model being proposed," said Wairarapa Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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