SI regional entity mooted

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2012

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Environment Canterbury's commissioner chairwoman Dame Margaret Bazley has suggested to the Government a Canterbury unitary authority could be discussed in time for the 2016 council elections.

She also suggested a loosely-formed "Southern Alliance" of councils could eventually lead to a "South Island regional governance entity".

The Government has decided to postpone elections for ECan until 2016, going against its previous promise to hold elections next year.

But the Timaru Herald obtained documents under the Official Information Act revealing the commissioners wanted a return to some form of democracy at next year's elections, with the preferred option being a "mixed model" of appointed and elected representatives.

Dame Margaret's report, compiled on behalf of the other commissioners, said the earthquakes and other issues meant introducing a Unitary Authority at this point was not a good idea.

"In fact would destroy the capacity to deal with issues in a regionally integrated manner . . . at a time when such disruption can be ill-afforded".

However, she also said "in the longer term, a Unitary Authority for Canterbury, with a leader elected at large, could be considered for the 2016 elections".

Other suggestions included giving the elected ECan chairman a range executive powers similar to those of the Auckland mayor.

Dame Margaret's report also made reference to a "South Island Strategic Alliance". She suggests central government give it some funding.

"This could be a key initiative with respect to collaboration on transport, roading, economic growth, tourism, disaster response and shared services," the report said. "It may in time lead to a single South Island regional governance entity."

Her report does not elaborate on that final point. Timaru Mayor Janie Annear was surprised by Dame Margaret's conclusion.

"South Island's councils would never have got on board if that was the intention," she said.

The alliance involved representatives from each South Island council meeting on a quarterly basis. "It's about [the councils] working smarter, and speaking in one voice on issues that affect all of the South Island," she said.

Asked about the possibility of a Canterbury unitary authority, Mrs Annear said anything at this stage was mere speculation.

"I am sure that the review in 2014 will bring up all sorts of suggestions," she said.

Local Government Minister David Carter said the Southern Alliance was a positive initiative.

"But we certainly haven't considered giving it extra funding, or moving any further with it.

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‘The time will come to review ECan's governance in 2014. It will return to some form of democracy eventually."

Mr Carter said a mixed model of elected and appointed representatives for ECan, and all regional councils, was a possibility.

- The Timaru Herald

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