Unitary authority a bad option

WALT DICKSON
Last updated 09:42 07/11/2012

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A former long-serving Wairarapa mayor is alarmed at the suggestion the region should become a unitary authority.

Bob Francis says he has reservations about aspects of the The Wellington Review Panel report released last week, but says going it alone as a unitary authority is not the answer.

The region's civic leaders have reacted angrily to the model recommended by the panel where there would be six local councils - including one for Wairarapa - with mayoral figureheads to consider local matters.

That flies in the face of Wairarapa's desire to become a separate unitary authority.

The panel was appointed by Greater Wellington Regional Council and Porirua City Council, and headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

The report stated that the panel recognised the "strong local sentiment in favour of such local control but we do not recommend it" because of the financial deficit the Wairarapa would have to fund if it split from the rest of the region.

But a spokesperson for the Wairarapa Governance Working Party has described the report's treatment of Wairarapa as "patronising", and said they would continue down the path to become a unitary authority.

Mr Francis, mayor of Masterton for 21 years up until 2007, says he is concerned with the suggestion that there is some merit with pursuing with a unitary authority for Wairarapa.

"In my view that would place the future of Wairarapa in jeopardy without question.

"It is unaffordable and if you accept that some of the services provided by Greater Wellington are excessive, the Morrison Low reports clearly point to the fact that a unitary authority for the Wairarapa is not an option."

The three Wairarapa mayors - Adrienne Staples, Garry Daniell and Ron Mark - last week described the Palmer report model as an "Auckland-style super-city with some subtle differences".

"The main problem with the model is that the big decisions for Wairarapa would be made from a largely metropolitan point of view - taking power and control of Wairarapa and leaving it with a glorified community board."

For Wairarapa there are now really only two realistic options, the mayors say - either a Wairarapa unitary authority which looks after both district and regional activities, or being part of a single Wellington authority. Wairarapa must weigh both of these up and decide which way it wants to go - these are big decisions and some hard decisions will need to be made.

"Wairarapa must decide whether it wants to determine its own future or leave all the important decisions to be made for them in Wellington.

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Further information is available at wairarapasfuture.govt.nz and district council offices.

- Wairarapa News

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