Ward plan based on distinct localities

With submissions to Palmerston North's representation review due to close early next month, a council watcher has devised a plan to carve the city into wards representing distinct communities.

Palmerston North man John Bent's proposal, which he will present in a submission to the council's formal representation review, would divide the city into 12 communities with a councillor each.

But he said the scheme would also have flexibility to merge some of the urban wards into larger units, or even one large unit, as a compromise with those who favoured city-wide voting.

The council has proposed the total abolition of wards in favour of electing all councillors at large, based on a narrow preference in a voter poll in 2010.

But a handful of councillors remained open to calls from rural ratepayers, especially in the area brought into the city from Manawatu district this year, to have a strong rural voice at the council table.

Mr Bent said the details of his proposal were difficult to work out because census data was so old, and the ratio of voters to councillors across different wards needed to be quite precise, about 7000 to one.

His plan would include two rural wards, one that could be called Eastern or Fitzherbert running from the river to the Tararuas, and Rural West, taking in the boundary change area from Longburn to Bunnythorpe and including Ashhurst.

In the balance of the city, three distinct areas stood out, he said - Cloverlea and Milson west of the railway line, Kelvin Grove and Roslyn from Vogel St, and the remainder of what is now Papaioea.

The rest of the city could make up six individual wards, three two-councillor wards based on adjusted Takaro, Awapuni and Hokowhitu boundaries, or elect its councillors at large.

"My clear preference is for individual member wards that are based on real communities of interest, and I believe that is where STV works best."

Mr Bent said the city's current five wards divided the city in slightly arbitrary ways, but any attempts to improve where the boundary lines lay would have to have to be mathematically workable.

He said reducing the number of councillors from 15 to 12 was a bonus in the sums he had done looking at identifiable communities that could make up wards.

It would have been even better to have an odd number, because that avoided passing whoever was mayor a casting vote whenever councillors were evenly split on an issue, he said.

So far, only five submissions have been received on the proposal to abolish wards.

Submissions close at 5pm on October 8, and will be heard by a council meeting at the end of the month.

Manawatu Standard