Mayor unhappy over amalgamation stance

KATIE CHAPMAN AND MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012

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Cracks are already starting to appear in a new working party tasked with trying to find a way forward for regional governance.

Less than a week after Wellington City Council agreed to join the working party, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown wrote to other councils expressing her disappointment that Greater Wellington regional council was not entering the conversation with an open mind.

The working party was set up by Greater Wellington and Porirua City Council to negotiate a joint amalgamation proposal to be presented to the Local Government Commission early next year.

Ms Wade-Brown's concerns came ahead of yesterday's regional council meeting, at which councillors were due to agree that their position would be to support a two-tiered system comprised of a council that "must provide for" either local or community boards with delegated power.

Wellington City Council officers have advocated a one-tiered system.

In her email, Ms Wade-Brown criticised the recommendations for not allowing room for negotiation, as Greater Wellington would have a set position.

"These appear to lock GW into preferring a single authority for the region. We agreed to join the working party, despite the lack of notice of the first meeting, in good faith that there could be some openness to the desires of different parts of the region . . . To learn these have been weighed up and firmly decided in advance by GW is disappointing. I look forward to hearing that this is not the case."

Ms Wade-Brown said she was in the midst of writing an email to the councils about Wellington's decision to join the working party and she also had concerns that the working party had started work before councils had decided to take part.

Some councillors at yesterday's Greater Wellington meeting agreed the recommended position was too strong when they were meant to be entering into negotiations.

Daran Ponter said spelling out a bottom line was alienating other councils that did not share Greater Wellington's view. "It is a neat attempt to straitjacket the territorial authorities . . . it doesn't give councils the ability to have a fulsome discussion."

The concerns led to a change in how Greater Wellington's bottom line was spelled out. The words "any final proposal must provide for" were replaced with the term "guiding principles" for negotiations.

Peter Glensor said he was disappointed that some people felt the regional council was entering the cross-council talks with a level of prejudice.

"These principles affirm that we want to see local things done locally and regional things done regionally."

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Chairwoman Fran Wilde said the suggestion that the regional council did not know how to work with other councils did not reflect reality.

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett, who invited councils to join the working party along with Ms Wilde, said it had always been clear that Greater Wellington was looking for a guide ahead of negotiations.

It was disappointing that the working party was already being marred by in-fighting, and the tensions between councils showed why a working party was necessary, he said.

"Just because people disagree and have silly little fights doesn't mean we need to shy away from debate and discussion."

TWO-TIER GOVERNANCE PLAN SUPPORTED

The regional council has drawn a supercity-sized line in the sand.

Greater Wellington yesterday formalised its decision to plump for a two-tiered super-city when the region's councils eventually meet to decide the future of governance in Wellington.

The council passed 15 resolutions, but some of them were close-run things. Those most hotly debated included resolutions that the council believed local government reform was needed in Wellington, and that a two-tiered unitary authority was the best option.

Daran Ponter said he was voting against the resolutions because he did not feel the current local government set-up was "fundamentally broken" and the Greater Wellington super-city proposal did not go into specifics about how rates and services would be affected.

Paul Swain, from Upper Hutt, said he saw no benefit in Upper Hutt giving up power and taking on more debt just so the region could have "one voice". "Let's be absolutely crystal clear. This is the Auckland super-city model we're going to end up with . . . it will be one central power with local boards that will be toothless."

Sandra Greig, of Lower Hutt, added that she had talked to thousands of people in the Hutt Valley recently and no-one was interested in amalgamation.

But several councillors disagreed that amalgamation was pointless. Nigel Wilson (Kapiti) said the Auckland model was becoming a "success story" and there had been a "blitzkrieg of misinformation" around Wellington about how it would work here.

Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said local boards would not be "toothless" so long as they were delegated the right level of responsibility.

- The Dominion Post

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