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Decision of the Local Government Commission on an application by the Far North District Council to become a unitary authority

Date: 30 January 2013

Introduction

1. On 18 December 2012 the Local Government Commission was presented with an application to reorganise local government in Far North District, the Far North District Council being the applicant. The application, for the Council to become a unitary authority, was made under section 24(1)(f) of the Local Government Act 2002 and is to be processed under the provisions of Schedule 3of the Act.

2. A unitary authority combines the powers of a district and a regional council. The present regional authority for the area is the Northland Regional Council, which covers the districts of Far North, Kaipara and Whangarei.

3.At a special meeting of the Commission, held 23 January 2013, the Commission made the following decisions on the application.

Decisions

  1. The Commission agreed to:

(a) note that a reorganisation application has been received from the Far North District Council for that council to become a unitary authority and that the application is not prohibited

(b) declare that the balance of Northland Region, i.e. Kaipara and Whangarei Districts, is an affected area, in terms of paragraph (c) of the definition of ‘affected area’ in clause 2 of Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002 because the operational scale, scope and capability of the Northland Regional Council would be materially affected if local government were to be reorganised as proposed in the application

(c) determine that the application as submitted, together with the supplementary information provided by the applicant, meets the requirements of clauses 4 to 7of Schedule 3 for reorganisation applications

(d) decide to assess the reorganisation application pursuant to clause 6 of Schedule 3

(e) notify the applicant and affected local authorities of this decision.

Reasons for the decision

  1. The Commission considered evidence provided in the application, council documents and supplementary information provided by the applicant on community support.
  2. In considering the application and supplementary information provided, the Commission made its assessment against the statutory requirements of clauses 3 to 7 of Schedule 3 and came to the view that the application:
  • had been validly made under clause 3
  • was not a prohibited application pursuant to the provisions of clause 4(a) and (b)
  • was for a matter provided for under section 24 and Schedule 3of the Act
  • together with the supplementary information provided by the applicant, was considered to meet the requirements of clauses 5 and 7 of the Schedule.

Relevant matters the Commission took into consideration

  1. Among the matters set out in clause 5 that the Commission was required to consider was whether the application had a degree of community support in the district of each affected territorial authority (clause 5(1)(f)). This required the Commission to determine which areas are ‘affected areas’ under paragraphs (a) to (c) of the definition of ‘affected area’ in clause 2 of Schedule 3.
  2. In particular, the Commission needed to consider, under paragraph (c) of the definition, whether the operational scale, scope and capability of the Northland Regional Council would be materially affected by the Far North District Council becoming a unitary authority.
  3. On the evidence before it, which included the application material, statistical information on the district, and information obtainable from council documents, the Commission took the view that the formation of a unitary authority in Far North District would materially affect the operational scale, scope and capability of the Northland Regional Council.
  4. This would occur primarily through the potential for loss for the regional council of regional scale, scope and capability in terms of organisation, income sources and specialist staffing, if the application were to proceed. It was considered that this loss would constitute a material affect. Accordingly the Commission declared that the balance of Northland Region, i.e. Kaipara and Whangarei Districts, was an affected area in relation to the application.
  5. The Commission then turned its mind to the level of community support for the application both within Far North District and also within Kaipara and Whangarei Districts being affected areas. It considered that the evidence demonstrating community support in these areas need not indicate a particular level or type of support as this was not a requirement in the Act at this stage given further requirements for demonstrable community support in later stages of the process.
  6. The Commission considered all the information provided by the applicant on community support for the application. This material consisted of the application material itself and supplementary material supplied to the Commission after the application had been lodged. It also included evidence from the 2010 Trapski-Brash and McKinlay-Douglas reports on local government reorganisation in Northland and feedback from the community at the time via submissions, a survey and focus group consultation.
  7. When considering the evidence of community support from within Far North District, the Commission was satisfied the material did demonstrate support for the application. Because the Commission had declared the other parts of Northland Region to be affected, it was also interested in evidence from groups with cross-boundary membership. This applied in particular to support from iwi and Māori associations, some of which have interests across Northland Region. Supplementary material was provided on this point so as to clarify iwi and Māori organisation boundaries. The Commission was interested in this point because Māori constitute a significant proportion of the population in each of the three districts in the region.
  8. The Commission also considered other expressions of support from outside Far North District, in letter or submission form, supplied by the applicant.
  9. In considering the above information, the Commission came to the view that the application did contain “information that demonstrates that the application has community support in the district of each affected territorial authority” (clause 5(1)(f)).
  10. The Commission also considered the application contained all the other necessary requirements of clauses 5 to 7 of Schedule 3. On this basis, the Commission made its decision to proceed to assess the reorganisation application submitted by Far North District Council.