Labour pushes community voice

Last updated 17:07 25/07/2014

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The Labour Party has confirmed it will would restore the rights of individual communities to decide on council amalgamations.

It also wants to give the power back to councils to be able to impose levies such as through petrol and visitor taxes in order to raise revenue.

A 2012 law change to make it easier for councils to merge has proven controversial, with councils such as Hutt City, Napier and Rotorua saying the wishes of local communities were likely to be overridden by those of larger ones within the region.

Supporters say mergers cut back on bureaucracy and costs, and allows unified decision-making over larger areas, as well as a stronger voice for individual regions.

Labour’s local government spokesman Su’a William Sio released the party’s local government policy today, saying that while Labour did not oppose amalgamations, it did not adhere ‘‘to the one size fits all approach’’.

‘‘Our plan for a final-say referendum on amalgamation is to restore democracy to local government and implement a real partnership with central government,’’ he said.

‘‘The Government does not have a coherent strategy for local government reform.’’

Communities would be able to hold a referendum on whether their council was included in any proposed amalgamation, he said.

Auckland’s super city was held up as the best model for amalgamation but Sio said it was designed to ‘‘take control away from the hands of the many, and vest governance in the hands of the few’’.

The Local Government Commission is at present looking into mergers in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and the Far North.

Labour would also allow councils to impose levies such as a petrol tax in order to raise revenue though Sio said they had not fleshed out which levies could be imposed and in what circumstances, saying they would do that with local councils.

Sio said Labour would also look at the size of local council wards including a councillor-to-voter ratio and restore the right of communities to be fully consulted before services were contracted out or privatised.

The policy would also ensure that regular meetings between Cabinet, Local Government New Zealand, and council chief executives, would restore the requirement for councils to consider social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing when making decisions.

That requirement was axed in 2012 to ensure the councils focussed on the principles of local infrastructure, local public services and regulatory functions.

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‘‘Labour’s vision for local government is that it will not only be accountable to local communities but also affordable for its residents and ratepayers,’’ Sio said.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) president Lawrence Yule welcomed the policy to put the decision on mergers back in the hands of individual communities, saying LGNZ had voted this week by an overwhelming majority to lobby the Government to ensure a majority of each community wanted a merger.

He also supported the reinstatement of the core values, saying local government never wanted them abandoned in the first place.

Other points were less necessary however, including looking at the size of council wards.

‘‘We’ve never looked at that as an issue, to be honest,’’ he said.

LGNZ also already met regularly with central government representatives and they already had to consult with communities before changing service delivery models.

- Stuff

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