Kapiti takes lead on local government reform

JIM CHIPP
Last updated 11:00 03/12/2012

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Kapiti Observer

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Kapiti has taken the lead in the local government reform around the Wellington region, but the Hutt Valley appears to hold the whip-hand.

When Kapiti Coast District Council considered the next steps in possible council amalgamations at its meeting on Thursday it was the first council to do so.

Introducing the motion, Kapiti mayor Jenny Rowan said it would attract media attention and that would be good.

"We believe that this is the first formal proposal to come to a council on the regional governance matter."

The meeting was held the day after amendments to the Local Government Act had passed their third reading in Parliament, leaving only royal assent needed before they passed into law, which is expected to be granted some time this week.

Councillors heard from senior officers Gael Ferguson and Alison Lash what the amendments would mean to council representation.

Among the new conditions was government approval for two-tier council structures, as proposed by Greater Wellington and Porirua City Council's local governance panel chaired by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

However, it came with conditions.

Two tiers was the maximum, meaning there could be an overarching super-city council, with either community boards beneath it or local councils - but not both.

Furthermore, two-tier structures were restricted to councils representing populations of 400,000 or more.

Wellington region has a population of just over 480,000 but the 40,000 residents of Wairarapa want to defect to form their own unitary council and the two Hutt cities, with a combined population of 150,000 have proposed a similar structure.

That would leave 200,000 Wellingtonians, 50,000 Porirua residents and 50,000 Kapiti residents - not enough to form a two-tier city without at least Lower Hutt.

Kapiti will enter negotiations with Wellington Regional Council and Porirua City Council on possible amalgamations.

Wellington City was also expected to participate.

At its meeting on Thursday Kapiti Coast District Council appointed a panel of four - Mayor Jenny Rowan and councillors Roger Booth, Penny Gaylor and Tony Lester - to represent it in discussions which were scheduled to begin last night.

Any three of the panel will attend discussion along with council chief executive Pat Dougherty and other officers.

The council also agreed to consult residents on an amalgamation proposal in January or early February.

The decisions were unanimous.

"That is carried. We're actually starting the process of our demise," Ms Rowan said after the vote.

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LAW CHANGES

The government has given its approval for two-tier city council representation with conditions in changes to the Local Government Act which went through Parliament on Thursday.

Among other changes were:

- The definition of a "problem" that could trigger an intervention to reorganise councils has been loosened.

- Once a problem is identified the Local Government Minister is free to dictate the level of intervention that will take place.

- All references to the "wellbeings" that councils are charged with safeguarding have been replaced by "interests".

- Territorial Authorities are required to co-operate with the Local Government Commission.

- The level of "community support" required to trigger change has been amended from "demonstrable" to "able to be shown".

- Community support must exist in all affected areas, not just the total area, meaning Kapiti would be able to scupper a Wellington-Porirua- Kapiti amalgamation, or Carterton could do the same to a combined Wairarapa.

- A referendum on any proposed reorganisation can be triggered by a petition with the signatures of 10 per cent of the voters in any affected territorial authority. There would be 60 days to gather signatures after a formal proposal to change governance was made.

- Once a formal proposal has been made, councils must not comment or lobby for or against it;

- Councils will have the power to overturn committee chairmanship and deputy mayoral appointments made by mayors.

- Councils will have the power to dissolve council committees or to set up additional ones.

- Kapiti Observer

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