Coromandel attempts to break from council

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012
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A campaign agitating for the Coromandel Peninsula to split from the regional council is gaining momentum, with the district mayor backing calls for change.

Thames-Coromandel Mayor Glenn Leach said the majority of Coromandel ratepayers were unhappy with the regional body and supported calls for a unitary council on the peninsula.

His comments came after Thames-Coromandel District Council were given a 1000-signature petition seeking a single-tier council combining the functions of today's district and regional council.

The petition was organised by the Upper Coromandel Landcare Association.

"I'm a firm believer that a unitary council could work here," Mr Leach told the Waikato Times.

"I don't think people look and say we're not part of the Greater Waikato but you don't need a PhD to know the bulk of ratepayers on the Coromandel Peninsula are dissatisfied with the attitude, bureaucracy and costs incurred in our region by the regional council.

"The regional council might say their rates are only going up three-odd per cent but when you look at what they're charging people for consents it's exorbitant.

"A thousand ratepayers have signed a petition saying they don't want any involvement with EW [Environment Waikato] and I'd be an idiot if I didn't listen. I just hope the regional council realise this isn't a small movement driven by a few radicals, because it's not."

He said a report looking at the viability, costs and benefits of a unitary authority or amalgamation would be available by the middle of next year "at the latest".

A smaller amalgamation between three or four districts would have enough size to create a unitary authority, he said.

Speculation over the future shape of local government has mounted with councils across Waikato grappling with the implications of the Government's "better local government" reforms.

Regional council chairman Peter Buckley rejected a suggestion there was a disconnect between Coromandel residents and the council, adding the regional body worked closely with the Coromandel community on a range of activities, such as flood and coastal protection and pest control.

Mr Buckley said reform was needed but the regional council had not endorsed any new model.

He said a lot of work was needed to determine whether new proposals would result in better outcomes for communities, including considering the costs and benefits of duplicating services such as civil defence and pest management strategies.

"The Waikato must be able to have the scale and clout to ensure our interests are represented and can compete, in particular, with the power and influence of Auckland. Splitting our region into multiple unitaries simply fragments our ability to be heard on issues that matter."

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Unitary council petition organiser Reihana Robinson said Mr Leach's comments were "a critically important first step toward positive change."

"Two-tier local government is on the way out across New Zealand. The only question is whether Thames-Coromandel will be swept against the wishes of its residents into a remote massive all-Waikato super council based in Hamilton or will it form its own more appropriate council," Mrs Robinson said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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