Upper Hutt to consider amalgamation options

ROSEMARY MCLENNAN
Last updated 09:28 11/12/2012

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Upper Hutt Leader

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This afternoon Upper Hutt City Council will decide if it wants to pursue amalgamation with Lower Hutt or even the whole region.

The December 12 full council meeting, in the council chambers at 4.30pm, will consider, in the public part of proceedings, a report by chief executive Chris Upton on the options.

They are partly the result of the Government's recent law changes redefining the goals of local government and changing the process for amalgamations.

At the same time a Wellington Regional Council and Porirua City Council-initiated project led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer has given four options for potential boundary changes in the Wellington region, favouring a unitary authority merging the regional council and city/district councils in Wellington, Porirua, Kapiti, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa (all three).

Mr Upton said that it was likely by February the three Wairarapa councils would approach the Local Government Commission (LGC, the body which deals with amalgamation proposals) seeking to be merged into one new council which would also take over the regional council's role there.

Mr Upton said the Wairarapa move would trigger a review by the commission of the whole region "irrespective of whether there are other proposals put forward, or whether the Upper Hutt community or any other community wants change. It is likely that proposals for some form of single Wellington council will also be put forward. It is also likely that there will not be consensus within the region on the way forward".

Today's meeting is to identify the steps the council wishes to take in relation to the discussions around the region over various options.

Mr Upton says a survey of Upper Hutt residents in June showed little support for change.

"In fact Upper Hutt residents were the least supportive of change across the entire region with 83.5 per cent (of 1409 local submissions) not supporting any form of boundary change."

He said a frequent argument for amalgamations was that it would increase efficiency and therefore save money.

"This may be the case but often is not. Wellington City Council research has shown that often savings achieved through economies of scale are reinvested in projects or service improvements that would not otherwise have been possible. The net result for ratepayers is unlikely to be a reduction in rates.

"In the Wellington discussions it has also been argued that a simplified governance structure will allow the region to compete with Auckland. This does raise the question of whether a competitive model in relation to Auckland, or indeed with any other region in a small country like New Zealand, is sensible or indeed necessary, as opposed to a partnership model."

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Mr Upton said four options have emerged that could form the basis of a proposal or proposals to the commission.

They are:

1 Wairarapa unitary authority.

2 Single city, one or two tier structure.

3 Regional council/Porirua City Council model, two tiers with second called local area councils but with very limited powers. Includes Wairarapa.

4 Wellington City council model. Similar to regional council/PCC option but leaves Wairarapa future open.

Mr Upton said the council needs to decide whether or not to engage in the discussions "as although there is little or no community support, it is possible one of these options, or a combination of the two, will get traction with the LGC.

"If this does happen, it would be important to set some underlying principles for negotiation."

He said the two Hutt council have requested Morrison Low be engaged to look at the merits of forming a three unitary council model. Although there was little support for any change in the recent [Upper Hutt] survey, those that did indicate a preference for boundary change, preferred an amalgamated Hutt Valley (20 per cent).

"Proponents of this model saw that it was building on current strengths without losing each community's identity, and that it connected similar communities.

"They saw this option as providing the best balance between reducing some layers of bureaucracy whilst retaining local control."

He said the impact on rates long term was unclear and more work was needed.

"In the last week the Kapiti Coast District Council has decided to commission work in this area as their current view is that it would be better for them to possibly create their own unitary [council] rather than merge with Porirua and Wellington, effectively creating a four city model."

An initial report back to both Hutt councils is due on December 14, but dependent on financial information being available from the regional council which has employed Price Waterhouse Cooper to provide the analysis to all the region's councils.

Engaging Morrison Low will cost about $75,000 and Upper Hutt's share will be about a third.

Mr Upton said the cost would "increase considerably" if it were decided to develop the model further to enable an application to be lodged with the commission.

Mr Upton said with the new legislation about to be in place, anyone could lodge an application with the commission for change as long as they could provide "demonstrable" support with each of the affected areas.

"Council must now manoeuvre itself into a position that it is able to support an application, discredit an application or lodge alternate applications."

What councillors will vote (for or against) on:

1 That the council agrees to continue to work with all councils across the region on the varying governance options.

2 That the council consider whether to join the regional council, Porirua City, Kapiti Coast District Council working party to form a region-wide proposal to the commission.

3 That the council agrees to form a Hutt Valley unitary working group and that Upper Hutt City Council is represented by mayor Wayne Guppy, deputy mayor Peter McCardle and policy committee chair John Gwilliam.

4 That the council agrees to formally engage Morrison Low to provide further analysis on a Hutt Valley unitary authority.

5 That the Hutt Valley unitary working group report back to the council following completion of this analysis in early February.

6 That the council, on completion of the above work, consults with the community prior to any application being lodged with the commission.

- (Live Matches)

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