Businesses back beefed up regional council

JIM CHIPP
Last updated 09:35 01/11/2012
Geoffrey Palmer
JIM CHIPP
Kingmaker: Sir Geoffrey Palmer delivers the recommendations of the local governance review panel.

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The Wellingtonian

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A muscled-up Wellington regional council sitting over existing local authorities has the support of local businesses.

The "super-city lite" plan was proposed by a regional governance panel chaired by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and announced on Tuesday.

In consultations around the region, the panel had found widespread aversion to an Auckland- style super-city, he said.

However, the region lacked leadership and there were things that could not be done effectively under the present structure of local government silos.

Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce president Richard Stone said the proposal was a sensible way to improve local government effectiveness and efficiency in the region without sacrificing local democracy.

"It will bring a consistency in the application of local government protocols across the whole region," Mr Stone said.

A single over-arching authority would make it easier for businesses to set up in Wellington or move here, potentially helping employment.

"I don't think the objective is primarily to make it easier to attract businesses, but it is a good positive move."

It would allow issues of regional significance to be led regionally rather than being driven by "parish pump interests".

"Transmission Gully is a case in point. There has never been a unified consistent regional view," Mr Stone said.

"I am not criticising, but that is inevitably what happens. This will bring a regional approach to major initiatives."

International Festival of the Arts chief executive Sue Paterson said it was an interesting debate.

"From the Festival point of view our regional audiences are really important to us and we welcome any new initiatives that will deepen our engagement with those audiences," she said.

"We would support the most effective and efficient method of governing the region. As Wellingtonians we identify with the whole region, not just Wellington city."

Wellington property developer Eyal Aharoni said the plan was a good one, if it would produce a single district plan for the region.

"There are too many plans in this country. There should be one plan from Kaitaia to Invercargill."

Asked about a single regional rating system, which might penalise the higher-valued central city properties, he said Wellington city was already penalised anyway.

"A single rating system is good. We are one region and have joint infrastructure. A lot of stuff in the region needs to be done on a regional basis, like upgrading the airport, a longer runway."

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What's been proposed

A beefed up Wellington Regional Council would set and charge rates, which would be frozen at no more than the rate of inflation for three years.

It would assume the transport and environmental regulatory authority of the present regional council.

It would have 10 councillors: four from Wellington city; two from Lower Hutt; and one each from Wairarapa, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Kapiti.

It would be chaired by a lord mayor elected by the region.

Council terms would be four years, and councillors would be limited to three terms.

Existing territorial authorities would retain their catchments, except the three Wairarapa councils - Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa, which would amalgamate.

Local councils would apply to the regional council for funding.

Local mayors would no longer be elected by voters, but by their councils.

Existing community boards would continue at the discretion of the local councils.

Councillors would not be eligible to serve on the boards of council-controlled organisations.

The panel was established by Wellington Regional Council and Porirua City Council in May, and consultations were held throughout the region.

Its members were Sir Geoffrey Palmer (chairman), Sue Driver, Bryan Jackson and Sir Wira Gardiner.

Announcing the proposal on Tuesday, Sir Geoffrey said there had been "general disdain for the idea of a super-city", but widespread support for Wairarapa councils amalgamating.

Sir Geoffrey said lack of leadership was key in driving the changes. The region needed a single strong voice, he said.

"Local government is too important to be left to local government-elected officials and their advisers. It needs to be fully consulted upon," he said.

- The Wellingtonian

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