The proportion of people bothering to vote in council elections has slid steadily, according to Wellington regional councillor Paul Bruce.
"That's purely because people don't actually feel they have much influence," he said.
"The way to counteract that is to give people more influence over their local neighbourhood.
"We have to find ways to enhance democracy at local level."
Although Mr Bruce did not support a regional super-city, he said a regional spatial plan regulating development was a must.
However, he said, the Local Government Act did not make such a plan easy, and nor did it allow for an enhanced regional council to formulate and enforce it.
Mr Bruce, a Green Party member, was elected to the council in 2007 and re-elected in 2010.
He previously served as a climate scientist at the Meteorological Office for almost 40 years, including a two-year stint in Peru and Bolivia.
That work led him to the regional council.
"I thought we needed to deal with climate change," he said. "Wellington has a huge potential for doing good things.
There are more resources in Wellington which could enable us to be sustainable, but the way are dealing with it at the moment means we are not encouraging diversity."
If the council achieved the objectives of its own regional policy statement, Wellington would be in a sound position to face the future, he said.
"There are a whole lot of things I would like to see changed, but one thing we need to do is decrease our carbon footprint. We need to provide leadership for the region."
The council also ought to plan to decrease the region's use of fossil fuels, he said.
That would reap huge benefits in increased employment and increased health outcomes.
"Fossil fuels are becoming hugely expensive. If we move now we reduce some costs and carbon emissions. We have to play our part."
Plentiful land, wind, tidal energy and a fair amount of sun make New Zealand the easiest place in the world to harness renewable energy, Mr Bruce said.
"Wellington and New Zealand have huge opportunities to do something. And it's not an economic cost at all," he said.
"The regional council is doing a lot that's right."
However, it was constrained, he said. Although the council led the Regional Land Transport Programme, it was NZ Transport Agency that made the decisions in the end.
"The regional council should have come out against the Roads of National Significance in a strong way," he said.
"Those roads are sucking money out of the local roads."
Small individual projects, such as the planned Ngauranga-to- Petone cycleway, would reap far greater benefits, he said.
"It's a total embarrassment that we have always diverted money to roads first, like the Basin Reserve flyover," he said.
- The Wellingtonian