A single local government authority to run Canterbury should be considered by the Government once the region's recovery is on track, the Environment Canterbury (ECan) commissioners say.
A confidential report prepared by the commissioners on the future of local government in Canterbury says introducing a new authority now would be a mistake but suggests it should be looked at in time for the 2016 local body elections.
The report was written for Local Government Minister David Carter and released into the public arena only after The Press requested it under the Official Information Act.
It says introducing a unitary authority, similar to Auckland's super-city, now would "destroy the capacity to deal with our issues in a regionally integrated manner" but that in the longer term a unitary authority, with an elected leader, could be considered for the 2016 elections "once the current major issues are behind us and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) ceases to exist".
The Regional and Local Government Structure in Canterbury report says there is "growing interest" in collaboration in the South Island and highlights the establishment of the Southern Alliance, a strategic alliance of South Island councils.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker yesterday backed investigating a change in local government structure before the 2016 local body elections.
He said that given the scale of change in the region, the shifts in residential population and the likelihood the role and function of regional councils would become less complicated, it made sense to look at how Canterbury governance could be rearranged.
"We've got enough on our plates just now, but I think going forward we do need to consider how we deliver local democracy in the most efficient and cost-effective way for our communities," Parker said.
Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore said he supported a reshaping of local government in Canterbury, and efficiencies could be gained without compromising local democracy.
If the role of community boards was strengthened they could become the first port of call for people wanting to be part of the decision-making process, which would allow the "super council" to concentrate on governance issues.
Moore said that rather than waiting till Cera ceased to exist, the work on how to move towards a unitary authority should begin now.
Waimakariri District Mayor David Ayers is opposed to any move towards a unitary authority.
He said there were opportunities for Canterbury councils to work more closely together, but it was important they retained their existing autonomy.
"The councils are working well and have good connections with their local communities," he said.
"If you bring them all together, it just won't work."
Ayers questioned how the boundaries for a unitary authority would be determined.
If the boundaries for the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy were used, he said, what would happen to small communities like Cust that fell outside its boundaries?
Speculation the Government wants to establish a unitary authority in Canterbury has intensified since it was announced last month that ECan elections would not be held until 2016, despite a promise to hold regional council elections next year.
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