D-day for super-city
Is it the end of Wellington as we know it?
Wellington's political landscape could take one of the most dramatic twists in a generation today as the Local Government Commission gives its long-awaited view on whether the region should become a super-city.
After 18 months of investigation, the commission will announce this morning whether it thinks Wellington's nine councils should become one, whether Wairarapa should go it alone, or whether the status quo is best.
It will then ask the public for its views.
ALSO: At 2pm, live web chat with GWRC chairwoman Fran Wilde and Hutt City mayor Ray Wallace
A unitary council with local boards is widely considered to be the favoured option, as it would mirror the model adopted in Auckland in 2010.
This "two-tier" option would see a regional council covering Wellington, the Hutt Valley, Porirua, Kapiti and Wairarapa, but with local boards in each.
Alternatively, the commission could recommend a single council, with or without Wairarapa, or a model with increased shared services but not full amalgamation.
A super-city might mean higher rates for many residents, but would improve services across the region, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers local government director David Walker, who helped design Auckland Council's model, and who wrote a comprehensive report on Wellington's governance in 2010.
"You end up with winners and losers, that's inevitable," he said. "Of course, change is painful. But the overall city would be better off."
He believed smaller councils such as those in Wairarapa would gain most from a super-city when it came to infrastructure, as the Rodney and Franklin districts did when Auckland merged. But the smaller towns could also feel the greatest loss of direct democracy.
However, low voter turnout in council elections suggested people did not feel very connected to their local councils now, he said. "Are the current councils connected anyway?"
Auckland had saved $180 million by streamlining eight councils' staff and systems into one, he said.
Wellington should have a faster, smoother road to amalgamation because its population was a third the size.
Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace, a vocal opponent of amalgamation, was bracing himself yesterday for the announcement of a "monster" one-tier council.
"We're hoping for the best, which would be no change to current boundaries, but preparing ourselves for an announcement proposing one large, monster of a super-city."
Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde, an advocate of a two-tier Auckland-style model, was keeping her predictions close to her chest yesterday, but said she supported regional representation alongside local decision-making.
"The happiest outcome would be something that continues to build Wellington region, which we all know is pretty vibrant, and that continues to let us access opportunities for the whole region, not just have pockets of prosperity."
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown repeated her long-held personal view that "Miramar to Masterton's too far".
Whatever the final decision, it should go straight to a public referendum, she said.
THE NEXT STEPS
Local Government Commission will reveal its preferred amalgamation model at midday today.
Public submissions will be sought on the commission's draft model before a final model is prepared and it, too, is sent out for public consultation.
A binding referendum on the final model will be triggered if at least 10 per cent of registered voters in one affected area demand one. The smallest area under Greater Wellington's control is a 6745ha slice of the Tararua district with 11 rateable properties on it.
If the final model gets more than 50 per cent support in the referendum, or no referendum is called for, the new council will become reality.
If it fails to get more than 50 per cent support, the status quo is maintained.
- The Dominion Post