Proposed local govt changes 'draconian'

PAUL EASTON
REPORTER
Last updated 12:36 23/08/2012
Celia Wade-Brown
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
CELIA WADE-BROWN: The proposed reforms will not help to unlock the economic potential of New Zealand's cities.

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Civic leaders from around the Wellington region have lined up to attack a Government bill designed to revamp the way councils operate, with Kapiti's mayor labelling it "draconian and unacceptable".

The Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill proposes to ditch "four well-beings" -  a clause that says councils must consider "social, economic, cultural and environmental" responsibilities.

It also aims to rein in local debt levels, which have quadrupled in the past 10 years from $1.8 billion to $7b.

The bill scraped through its first reading in Parliament in June by 61 votes to 59 with the support of the Government's partners ACT and United Future.

Kapiti Mayor Jenny Rowan, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Greater Wellington Regional council chair Fran Wilde addressed the Local Government and Environment Committee this morning.

Ms Rowan said a provisions to allow ministerial intervention when "reasonable concerns" were held over a council's operation were "draconian and unacceptable".

"Local Government is a creature of statute, not a Government department," she said.

"The amendments proposed are in direct opposition to a healthy, prosperous and growing country at a local level. I respectfully ask you to reconsider what is before you."

Ms Wilde said the bill in its current form did not allow for a two-tier governance system.

Under the model, Wellington would have one council, with community boards advising the council on local concerns.

A unitary authority would "totally disempower local communities", she said.

"In a region the size of Wellington, the sheer volume of work that a unitary council would need to undertake would be impossible to manage. While a strong case for change exists, and can be demonstrated, the issue of local representation on local issues may become a significant barrier to community support for a restructure."

Ms Wade-Brown said the Wellington City Council already recognised the need to manage its affairs prudently, while meeting the needs of the community.

It had an AA rating from ratings agency Standard and Poor's.

The proposed reforms would not help to unlock the economic potential of New Zealand's cities, she said.

The council recommended keeping the "four well-beings".

"Cities, and in particular the capital city need to invest in cultural well-being, social well-being, in a way that may not be appropriate or desired by some other communities."

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Contact Paul Easton
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Email: paul.easton@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @pwe74

- The Dominion Post

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