Councils say bigger not always better

STANDING UP: Lower Hutt mayor Ray Wallace.
STANDING UP: Lower Hutt mayor Ray Wallace.

A group of North Island mayors and deputies have come out swinging in their criticism of super-cities.

The benefits of local government amalgamation are unproven, the 20-strong group declared at a meeting yesterday.

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace, who led the meeting at Wairakei, north of Taupo, said the Local Government Commission had a "pre-determined position in favour of amalgamation".

"It provides no hard economic or social evidence why amalgamation is necessary, nor why it will be better for the citizens and ratepayers."

Wellington, Wairarapa and the Hawke's Bay are all being consulted over proposals for amalgamations by the Local Government Commission.

Councils have had to fund their own research into local government best practice as the commission has provided none, Mr Wallace said.

"These show that amalgamation does not deliver what is promised, and bigger is not necessarily better."

The meeting issued a position statement saying it also opposed amalgamation forced onto communities and re-organisation of councils when residents have no ability to opt in or out.

The forum would continue to meet, Mr Wallace said.

"More council leaders wanting alternatives to forced amalgamation have already expressed a desire to join, and others are welcome."

The group said it favoured an increase in shared services between councils. It would continue to present alternate options and seek political change to ensure the Local Government Commission's approach became "collaborative and evidence-based".

"There could be a change as long as the Local Government Commission can show demonstrable support - they've told us that could mean one person," he said.

"We live in a democracy where majority rules."

Controversially, Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule - also the mayor of Hastings - was not invited to the meeting. He was only informed of it by invited Local Government Minister Paula Bennett.

Mr Wallace said Local Government NZ, the representative body of all 78 councils, was not invited due to its neutral stance on amalgamation.

Several mayors, including Wellington's Celia Wade-Brown and Porirua's Nick Leggett, were left off the invitation list. Others were invited but declined.

The Dominion Post