Talks on two city merger
The Hutt Valley's two councils discussed local government re-organisation options last week at a meeting Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said was "very, very productive".
The chief executives of both councils have been asked to do further work on the pros and cons of a single council for the Hutt Valley.
But Mr Wallace stressed it was "early days" and all options were still being explored.
The two councils are still to meet the regional council individually for a briefing on the report by the independent panel led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.
At a meeting of Zone 4 councils on November 21, Wellington City Council will present its idea for a single unitary council for the region.
Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said the two Valley councils met at least once a year and with the Palmer report "fresh on the table" and both councils having to decide where they were heading on the issues, it made sense to hear what councillors were thinking.
"We had the same questions as Lower Hutt," Mr Guppy said.
Mr Wallace felt the two Valley councils were closer than ever.
"The reality is that in the Palmer report and the Wellington [City Council] proposal, the people of Hutt Valley benefit the least."
Public feedback to both Valley councils was that ratepayers preferred no change in boundaries and greater co-operation on regional issues.
The second "clear" preference, if a "no-mergers" option wasn't viable, was for a union of the two Valley councils.
Asked if Lower Hutt wanted a Valley merger more than Upper Hutt but needed to be careful not to tread on the smaller authority's toes, Mr Wallace would only say the request for a joint discussion came as "no surprise" to councillors to the north.
"We're so similar in the issues we are facing . . . it's a natural fit."
We asked Mr Guppy if a Valley merger and the likelihood the three Wairarapa councils would amalgamate, would get the Government and others clamouring for local government re- organisation off our backs.
"I think one way or another, they want one council in the region. That's just my personal feeling, not my personal choice," he said.
Mr Guppy said the wording of the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill, now before Parliament, "is absolutely geared for structural change.
"I think - and I know some disagree - that momentum for change is going out of control."
Once the new legislation got through, it would not be too late for some sort of re-organisation in the Wellington region to be pushed through in time for the elections in October 2013, he said. There was also provision for the Local Government Minister to delay an election for up to 12 months if he felt agreement on re- organisation was close.
Mr Guppy agreed the Government would not push out a Wellington election into October 2014 - that's when we vote for MPs again - but there was nothing to stop them holding local council elections off until, say, June 2014.
The Upper Hutt Mayor said some of the wording of the legislation was very vague - for example that the Local Government Commission considering re- organisation proposals be guided by the feeling of community leaders.
"Who are they?
"That can be judged pretty loosely if you want to go a certain way. There's no clear definition."
Mr Guppy said "the right thing to do" would be to have a referendum so that everyone could have a say.
"I hope that is in [the final form] of the legislation."
Mr Wallace said there was "no huge urgency" for re-organisation.
It would be better "to get it right" than rush.
"Even now there is public comment that Auckland [super-city] was rushed and there are issues they have to go back and fix up."
Earlier this month there was an assurance from Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce - echoing previous assurances given in the Hutt by the Prime Minister and his Deputy - that the Government would not force any amalgamations "and if there were any mergers they want it to come from community support".
For Lower Hutt there is another complicating factor - what to do about earthquake strengthening the civic administration block at a cost of $25 million-plus (more on this, page 2).
Mr Wallace said if there was a merger of Upper and Lower Hutt it could well impact on building requirements; some council departments could be in Upper Hutt and some in Lower Hutt.
Upper Hutt Leader