Wairarapa's future would be "jeopardised" if the region backed away from a Wellington super-city in favour of a unitary council, former Masterton mayor Bob Francis says.
Business and community leaders, including local iwi, Federated Farmers and the Chamber of Commerce, are calling for the Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party to halt their submission to the Local Government Commission and allow more time to explore alternatives.
The working party - made up of councillors from the three Wairarapa district councils - has proposed a unitary Wairarapa council encompassing all three districts and the regional council.
But Mr Francis, who was mayor for 21 years, said the region would be cutting off its nose to spite its face if it did not join with Wellington.
"If you look at the economic future of Wairarapa, in so many ways it's linked with Wellington and moving away from that relationship would only be negative.
"It would jeopardise the future of the region."
Nelson Rangi, chairman of Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, said he had "grave concerns" about the ability of a Wairarapa unitary authority to provide some of the services currently handled by Greater Wellington regional council - particularly environmental issues.
A unitary authority could also lead to higher rates, which would affect low-income Maori, and might reverse gains made in uniting the Wellington region's various iwi.
Jason Kerehi, Rangitane o Wairarapa chief executive, said Wairarapa's future was "inextricably linked to that of the whole Wellington region".
"Without a strong voice at central government level we risk a loss of influence, a loss of services and being reduced to a small-scale powerless region," he said.
South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples said giving power to metropolitan councillors in Wellington would see the decline of Wairarapa's rural provincial uniqueness. "If you look at Auckland's super-city it's already been proven you can't have co-governance."
The preferred option for the working group is a unitary council but Masterton mayor Garry Daniell said that was subject to financial viability.
Greater Wellington chairwoman Fran Wilde said Wairarapa's small population meant rates would increase with a unitary council and Wellington already did well by the "critical region".
A Greater Wellington $1 million annual cash injection over three years for the Wairarapa irrigation scheme was one of many projects where a unitary council would have to stump up the cash alone, she said.
The working party's consultation with the community closes on February 4 and work would be commissioned to look at cost differences between the two options.
- The Dominion Post
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