Wellington super city push gains traction

19:09, Jun 06 2013
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Wellington City Council has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a single super-city - but the final decision looks likely to land in the hands of the people.

And that could mean a handful of residents in a tiny corner of Tararua could end up playing a crucial role in the future of Wellington's local government.

Wellington City Council voted yesterday for a single metropolitan council that would combine the present Wellington, Porirua, Kapiti Coast, Hutt City, Upper Hutt and Greater Wellington councils. It would have one mayor and 29 councillors, each representing a small ward.

They also pushed for a binding referendum to decide the final shape of the region's governance. Such a referendum would be triggered if 10 per cent of the population of one of the affected territorial authorities signs a petition requesting one.

But, due to a geographical oddity, that could come down to just a couple of signatures.

The anomaly involves a small handful of homes around the Mataikona River, where the Greater Wellington region meets the Horizons region. The homes are in the Tararua district but - unlike the rest of Tararua - they fall within Greater Wellington.

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It would require only one or two residents in that area to sign a petition for a binding referendum to be enforced.

Yesterday's vote made it clear Wellington City Council's preference was at odds with that of Greater Wellington and Porirua City Council, which are expected to submit a proposal in favour of a two-tier arrangement, with a mayor and a region-wide council at one level, and a second tier of local boards.

Hutt Valley is also considering a proposal to become a separate entity, and the three Wairarapa councils last month put a proposal to the Local Government Commission to separate from the region into a single unitary authority.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the single-tier proposal was a "clear and reasonable alternative to the status quo" and was based on having wards small enough that there was adequate representation. The majority of councillors argued that a single tier would create greater representation than local boards.

All but two councillors voted for the proposal. Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon said he supported a two-tier model, as boards would ensure greater local democracy.

Mayoral candidate John Morrison was absent when it came to the vote, despite being present earlier in the debate. He said later that he was meeting a "major client" from Australia who was considering setting up a call centre here.

"I figured that was business and jobs for Wellington, rather than endlessly debating something that's gone round and round in circles."

Wellington's submission states that it was "developed in light of an expectation that the Greater Wellington Regional Council will submit an alternative application to the Local Government Commission on the basis of establishing a region-wide two-tier council".

Regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde said she welcomed Wellington's decision, as the "key thing" was that it was supporting a change in structure.

But she believed a single-tier system was not workable. "One council doing everything, I suspect, will just be highly impractical in the New Zealand situation, given community expectations."

Other city councillors said it was time to get on with the debate, and let the public have a say. Jo Coughlan said it was "absolutely vital" the council took a leading role in the debate.

WHAT NEXT?

 

The Local Government Commission is meeting next week to decide if it will accept the Wairarapa proposal to become a single council.

If it does, the commission will then call for any alternative proposals.

Once it has all the options, it will then come up with its own draft proposal, which will go out for public consultation.

From there it will develop its final recommendation.

Once that is finalised, the public can demand a referendum, provided a petition can be raised, signed by 10 per cent of residents in an affected territorial authority.

A binding referendum would then put the commission's final option against the status quo.

If the threshold for a referendum is not met, the commission's final recommendation will be adopted.

 

The Dominion Post