Editorial: Changes ahead at city council

Last updated 05:00 19/08/2013

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OPINION: At various times during the uproars of the past three tumultuous years on the Christchurch City Council, the cry has gone up for a cleanout of the elected members.

After nominations for the council election this year closed on Friday, that wish was already nearly halfway to being met.

The surprise revelation on Friday that Sue Wells would not be seeking re-election meant that no fewer than five of the 13 elected members would definitely not be returning to the council table after the election.

Since one or two of the present members who are standing for re-election are also likely to lose their seats, it is probable that after the election a majority of the councillors will, along with the mayor, be newly elected.

Such a substantial change in the composition of the council is startling (the parallel may not be exact, but imagine if a parliamentary election resulted in not just a new prime minister and government but also a House more than half of whose members were different from the previous parliament).

It gives the promise of an infusion of innovative and invigorating new ideas around the council table. But it also has dangers.

After the previous election, after all, many in Christchurch had high hopes that the arrival of some new members would help the council resolve some bitter differences that had arisen in the previous council and meet the challenges that, after the first earthquake of September 2010, were just beginning.

As it turned out, when real disaster struck, far from putting such squabbles aside, wrangling and back-biting on the council degenerated to the point that the Government was forced to appoint an overseer and came within an ace of sacking the council completely.

Hopefully, the new councillors, whoever they may be, will have sounder grasp on the scale and urgency of the task ahead of the city and will be able to knuckle down to the work required with a better sense of purpose. Those who are newly arrived at the table will need to get up to speed quickly.

Although most of the councillors who are leaving are older ones, and there are some interesting younger aspirants among the candidates, it is not exactly a generational change. At least some candidates, if they are elected, would not arrive as complete newcomers to political governance.

One mayoral candidate, Lianne Dalziel, comes from long experience of ministerial office in national government and two candidates for council seats are former mayors, Vicki Buck of Christchurch and Noeline Allen of Banks Peninsula.

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That could be a mixed blessing. It means they will have an awareness of the appropriate role of councillors and council processes. It will, however, be no advantage at all if they simply bring political and ideological baggage to the table with them.

That is because the council still faces huge challenges. Councillors must be open to considering all ideas to try to meet them. They will have to recognise that some choices will be difficult but they must show leadership and make them.

The change that will occur with the election offers an opportunity for renewal. Christchurch cannot afford to waste it.

- The Press

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