Regional council split on super-city

Wellington Super City Debate between Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde and Lower Hutt mayor Ray Wallace.
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington Super City Debate between Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde and Lower Hutt mayor Ray Wallace.

Wellington's regional council, which has led the charge for a super-city, is split down the middle on whether to scrap the idea.

At a meeting yesterday, six councillors backed a call by Upper Hutt representative Paul Swain to withdraw Greater Wellington Regional Council's support for a super-city, given the public opposition to it.

"I think there's a general feeling now, across the region, that this amalgamation proposal is a dead duck," he said.

His proposal was narrowly defeated, by seven votes to six, but his supporters sent a clear message that they were not content with combining the region's nine councils into one.

Their disquiet comes as councils across the Wellington region decide their response to the Local Government Commission's draft proposal for a two-tier council covering Wellington, Porirua, Hutt Valley, Wairarapa and Kapiti Coast. It would see a mayor and 21 councillors overseeing eight local boards of six to 10 members each.

The regional council, and particularly its chairwoman, Fran Wilde, has been a leading supporter of the super-city proposal. But at yesterday's meeting, Swain called on the commission to withdraw its proposal and replace it with a new structure that had the broad support of the public.

He pointed to the results of a Nielsen survey, published on Tuesday, which showed only 26 per cent of the region's residents would vote for a super-city.

The survey, commissioned by Wellington City Council at a cost of about $30,000, found 61 per cent of the 1000 respondents would vote against the idea, and 14 per cent were undecided.

"People have major concerns about what's going to happen," Swain said.

Wilde said the Wellington public had been spooked by the Auckland super-city's teething problems, and were afraid local decision-making would be lost under a system of local boards.

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But the reality was that lessons had been learnt from Auckland, and Wellington's boards would have more responsibilities, set budgets, and have laws protecting their powers from being taken away, she said.

"We're not Auckland and we don't want to be . . . we want as much as possible to be decided by the local boards."

With public submissions closing on Monday, March 2, the region's existing councils are moving behind the scenes to develop contingency plans should the super-city fail to become a reality.

They have been invited to a meeting next week to discuss forming a working party to determine what kind of change, if any, they might consider.

Wellington City Council spent more than two hours refining the words of its submission last night, settling on one that called on the commission to reconsider its proposal, and consult instead on a separate Wairarapa council and one or more metropolitan councils.

Much of the discussion focused on a need for change, but not the one the commission proposed. Iona Pannett said the process so far had been "a dog" and the commission had acted arrogantly.

Nicola Young said it was clear the current proposal would not fly, which was a pity because its core benefit was scrapping Greater Wellington Regional Council, which she labelled "the Malvina Major home for retired MPs".

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she thought that, regardless of the outcome, the process was likely to mean the "extinction" of the regional council.

All three Wairarapa councils confirmed yesterday they would oppose the super-city in their formal submissions.

Upper Hutt City Council also debated its submission last night. It called for existing council boundaries to remain but with an increased sharing of services, and argued the commission had dismissed this idea earlier "on the basis of incorrect information and poor analysis".

RIVALS FACE OFF

Two council leaders with opposing views on the super-city faced off in public debate last night - but the only heat turned out to be from a packed room with no air-conditioning.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde and Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace, who both addressed a fiery public meeting earlier this week, went head-to-head once again in a super-city debate organised by the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce at the Dowse Art Museum.

Before the debate kicked off, Wallace joked the business-class audience might lend itself to a more sedate environment than Monday night's encounter at Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt.

It took until the final summations from each of them before there were any accusations of "lowering the tone".

Wilde wooed the crowd with possibilities of improved economic prospects in a regional model of government, and promised local boards would still have a voice under the proposed super-city arrangements.

There would be no squabbling between all the councils about who would benefit the most from a new project beneficial to the whole region, she said.

Mayors and councils wanted to look after their patches, while a regional council would look after the region.

Wallace said Hutt City Council was not opposed to change, and mayors were already working together on some services.

"Our preference would be for existing council boundaries to remain, but with an increased sharing of services," he said.

It was patronising for Wilde to imply mayors could not work together. A super-city was not the answer, and it amounted to a dictatorship.

WHERE THEY STAND

Regional councillors supporting the super-city

Fran Wilde (Wellington)

Judith Aitken (Wellington)

Chris Laidlaw (Wellington)

Jenny Brash (Porirua-Tawa)

Barbara Donaldson (Porirua-Tawa)

Prue Lamason (Lower Hutt)

Nigel Wilson (Kapiti Coast)

Regional councillors against the super-city

Paul Swain (Upper Hutt)

Paul Bruce (Wellington)

Sue Kedgley (Wellington)

Ken Laban (Lower Hutt)

Sandra Greig (Lower Hutt)

Gary McPhee (Wairarapa)

 - The Dominion Post

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