Editorial: Regional vote too good to be true?

Do leopards change their spots? To judge by Wellington City Council, you'd think so.

The council voted 12-1 the other day to propose a one-tier "super-city" governance structure. The enlarged pseudo regional council would comprise 29 councillors, each with responsibility for a ward.

The vote was remarkable. When The Wellingtonian spoke to Mayor Celia Wade-Brown in February 2012, she was emphatic no regional governance was required. She felt the current Wellington Regional Council was unnecessary.

"The regional council did not exist until 1989 and we got on fine before that," she said.

Ms Wade-Brown spoke about the mayoral forum, plus increased consultation between neighbouring councils, being all that was required.

Her views, while not unanimous, received solid support around the council table.

Deputy mayor Ian McKinnon went the other way: "Transport, water, waste, energy services etc don't recognise political boundaries. Nor does the environment, or events and facilities so enjoyed throughout the region," he said.

While the regional council, led by Fran Wilde, and Porirua City Council, with Mayor Nick Leggett a strong advocate, pushed for regional governance, Wellington City councillors seemed determined to retain the status quo.

Leggett said some councils seemed to be indulging in "patch protection", and that seemed undeniable.

Councillors from Wellington, the Hutt Valley and Kapiti looked as if their priority was keeping their well-paid jobs.

That was then. Things have moved on, though the Kapiti council has not budged and the two Hutt Valley councils are still all over the place.

But there was Wellington, voting heavily in favour of a big super-council.

Cynics would suggest that with a super-council of 29 members, and with Wellington dominating by virtue of its larger population, the councillors were actually trying to ensure they retained their jobs, perhaps with increased pay.

We at The Wellingtonian are suspicious and would not be surprised if when the Local Government Commission examines various proposals - one-tier and two-tier - several city councillors revert to type and plug for the status quo.

The recent vote looked good, but it commits the councillors to nothing.

There has already been a survey that revealed most Wellingtonians want some sort of regional governance.

As Fran Wilde said early last year: "At a time of significant trends in New Zealand and overseas, Wellington should not be standing still. Major challenges can't be solved with a fragmented approach."

The evolution of Wellington's regional governance since the Municipal Corporations Ordinance was created in 1846 has been fascinating.

In 1945 the Wellington Regional Planning Authority was formed.

The first Wellington Regional Council was formed in 1980 and in 1989, after the Local Government Amendment Act (No 2), the current constitution of the regional council was established.

Laws, regulations and governing bodies have changed according to the needs of the times. The situation is no different now.

There needs to be regional governance. Maybe Wellington City councillors have finally grasped that, but don't bet on it.

The Wellingtonian