Wellington super-city scrapped due to lack of public support

The Wellington super-city proposal is dead in the water because of a lack of public support.
FAIRFAX NZ

The Wellington super-city proposal is dead in the water because of a lack of public support.

Another super-city style proposal for Wellington could be on the table within 12 months after plans to unite the region under one council were scuppered.

The Local Government Commission put the kibosh on its proposal for a Wellington super-city on Tuesday, citing a lack of public support.

It also canned a proposal to merge Northland's four councils into one, but said it would press ahead with plans to unify Napier, Wairoa, Hastings, and Central Hawke's Bay into a single authority.

Its plan for Wellington would have seen the region's nine councils merged into a single entity with a mayor and 21 councillors overseeing eight local boards.

But despite that option now being off the table, the process to reform Wellington's local government structure had not been halted, commission chief executive Sandra Preston said.

READ MORE:

Super-city: How the public reacted
Hawke's Bay council merger recommended
Wairarapa mayors celebrate super-city axing
* Dropping super-city good, and bad, for Kapiti
* What they said: super-city quotes

"This is not the end … I think there is a real mood for change in Wellington," she said. "The expectation is that [the region's leaders] will come up with another draft proposal."

After about 18 months of analysing different council models and gauging public feedback, the commission decided in December that a region-wide model, similar to the Auckland super-city, would be the best fit for Wellington.

But the public disagreed. Almost 90 per cent of nearly 10,000 people who made their feelings known were cold on the idea, with opposition strongest in the Hutt Valley.

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However, Preston believed the past two years of discussion and debate had not been for nothing. It had put Wellington's future squarely on the agenda and would act as the foundation for debate over a new council structure, which could be considered by the commission within a year, she said.

"Two and a half years ago people did not want to talk about the issues facing Wellington, and now everyone is talking."


The super-city plan as it stood when proposed in October, 2014.

But not everyone was as optimistic about the process going forward. Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett described Tuesday's decision as an "opportunity lost for Wellington" and said he could not see the region's leaders forming a new plan any time soon.

"There's a lot of people out there who say they want some form of change, but they're actually backing the status quo," he said. "If I had to put money on it, I'd say no change is likely."

The mood in Wairarapa was markedly different, however, with the mayors high-fiving each other after the commission released its decision.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said she felt delighted and vindicated, while South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples was similarly "thrilled".

"The super-city was the wrong model for Wairarapa and, if it takes longer to come up with the right model, I'll be happy," Staples said.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said there was still hope the three Wairarapa councils could have their own merger and break free from the Wellington region.

"A lot of work's been done in Wairarapa and a lot of money spent and we've got the bones of something that will work."

FROM THE ARCHIVES:
Super-city: Capital conundrum
Emphatic no for super-city in poll
Super-city 'dictatorship not democracy'
ABs legend puts boot into super-city
Super-city 'myths' busted
Regional council super-splitty
* Super-city would cost $184m
Kapiti could be left on its own

The demise of the Wellington super-city was also a win for the Hutt Valley's mayors, who appeared to galvanise their communities against the plan during the public hearings.

That was reflected in the commission's public feedback. About 98 per cent of submitters from Upper Hutt and 93 per cent of those from Lower Hutt opposed the super-city.

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said that, while the decision to abandon the super-city was the right one, his council was open to discussions about more shared services for the region.

But he would be concerned if the commission remained "hell-bent" on boundary changes, he said.

"Support for 'some form of change' should not be assumed by the commission to support significant alteration to the form of our region."

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde – the main proponent of the super-city – said the decision to axe it was disappointing for the region and its faltering economy.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the stage was now set for a heartier discussion about having three smaller amalgamations, which would establish single councils in the Wairarapa and Hutt Valley, alongside a Wellington/Porirua/Kapiti merger.

"I've consistently said that Miramar to Masterton was too far for effective local democracy."

The region's businesses were more supportive of the region-wide super-city plan, with 54 per cent giving it their blessing when public submissions were called for.

They reacted angrily to the news it had been scrapped, with Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford calling it a missed opportunity for the region and the local economy.

"Despite today's decision, there remains a huge appetite for change across the region, and we must look at fresh options, because there's no doubt that change must happen," he said.

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett encouraged Wellington's political leaders to get around the table and design a new structure that would unlock the region's full potential.

"I have heard these communities say they are up for change."

Chairman Basil Morrison said the commission proposed to push ahead with a single Hawke's Bay council because there was community support for it.

"That is one of the main reasons our decision on this application is different to those we have made in Wellington and Northland."

The commission has an annual budget of $2 million to cover the three amalgamations, which have all been on the boil for the past two years.

THE RISE AND FALL OF WELLINGTON'S SUPER-CITY

MAY 23, 2013: The Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa district councils ask the Local Government Commission to combine them into a single Wairarapa council.

JUNE 21, 2013: Greater Wellington Regional Council asks the commission to unify the region's nine existing councils, including those in the Wairarapa, into a single council with local boards.

JULY 8, 2013: The commission calls for alternative ideas to the two proposals, which is intends to consider alongside each other. It receives 21 responses.

AUGUST - FEBRUARY 2014: A series of public meetings are held across the region so the commission can gather feedback.

OCTOBER 21, 2014: The commission identifies its preferred option of a single council for the region with local boards.

DECEMBER 4, 2014: The draft super-city proposal is released and public submissions are called for. A total of 9142 submissions are received with 89 per cent opposed to the super-city.

MARCH - APRIL 2015: Public hearings are held at seven locations across the Wellington region. More than 450 people make their feelings on the super-city heard in person.

JUNE 9, 2015: The commission scraps its super-city proposal due to a lack of public support.

 - Stuff

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