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Commission: ‘no’ to amalgamation, ‘yes’ to combined district planning

Date: 06 Dec 2017

The Local Government Commission has determined its preferred option for local government reorganisation on the West Coast is the transfer of district plan preparation from the Buller, Grey and Westland district councils to the West Coast Regional Council. This will include a joint committee of the four councils to be responsible for developing and approving a new combined West Coast district plan.

The Commission will now work with the councils to prepare a draft outlining the details of the proposal and invite submissions from the community on the West Coast in the new year.

Lead Commissioner for the West Coast reorganisation Janie Annear said that while a number of options for local government in the area had been canvassed, only three were found to be reasonably practicable options. These were:

  • the transfer of the statutory obligations for preparing district plans under the Resource Management Act from the Buller, Grey and Westland district councils to the West Coast Regional Council
  • a unitary authority for the region combining the three district councils and the West Coast Regional Council into a single council, and
  • the status quo which by law is always an option.

 “The Commission is pleased to inform West Coast councils, the applicants and communities that combined district planning is its preferred option for change – the one that best fits with the purpose of local government and facilitates improved economic performance in the region,’’ Mrs Annear said.

“This option retains existing democratic decision-making structures while also introducing a single set of planning and development rules for the whole area.’’

Mrs Annear noted that over the past two years the Commission had worked closely with the Coast councils through a relationship agreement, focusing on regional efficiency initiatives. She said that building on that work, the councils had already initiated a move towards joint Resource Management Act planning.

“This decision, pending the release of a draft proposal and a period of submissions, will provide certainty on the process for developing a combined plan and enable the Commission to support the councils further in this endeavour.’’

While the legal mechanism for shifting district planning preparation responsibilities would involve a formal transfer from the three district councils to the West Coast Regional Council, a joint committee involving all the councils would be established to prepare and approve the combined district plan.

This would enable consideration of local issues and needs within a consistent overall regional approach.

“The move will, I’m sure, underscore the advantages of a joint approach to council responsibilities while maintaining distinct local community voices, and, importantly, the ability to reflect local conditions and requirements in the plan,’’ Mrs Annear said.

She acknowledged that the West Coast with its vast area, relatively small, widespread population and limited rating base faced some acute challenges, particularly in resourcing and capacity to meet infrastructure, service delivery and planning needs.

“Financial and operational analysis of the options showed that the option of a unitary authority for the region is workable and would deliver the greatest potential gains for the West Coast,’’ she said. “But the Commission has come to the view, given the special nature of the West Coast, that just one council along with an unfamiliar local board structure wasn’t the best option at this time to enable democratic local decision-making.’’

She added that neither, given the acknowledged challenges facing the West Coast councils, was the no-change option considered tenable as the option to best promote the purpose of local government into the future and achieve improved economic performance.

“Our engagement and community surveys on the West Coast indicated that the majority of people wanted change, be that councils sharing the provision of some services to increase their efficiency and cost-effectiveness, or amalgamation in some form.

“The Commission has now landed on an option that responds to these calls for change.

“We are confident this decision is the right one for the West Coast. It retains local voice and decision-making while providing a platform on which councils can build as they look further to provide for the best possible local government for their communities into the future.’’
 

Next steps

  1. The Commission will now begin work on preparing a draft proposal with input from the West Coast councils.
  2. In 2018 the Commission will issue the draft proposal and seek submissions on it in the first half of the year.
  3. It will hold hearings and consider the submissions received before deciding whether to issue a final proposal.
  4. If it decides to issue a final proposal, the responsibilities for preparing a combined district plan will be transferred to the West Coast Regional Council and a joint planning committee of the four councils will be established.
  5. The joint committee will begin work on preparing the combined district plan in the second half of 2018.

Questions and answers

Q. Will the community have a say in this decision?

A. Yes, the Commission will now prepare a draft proposal and circulate it for feedback, submissions and hearings.

Q. What happens after that?

A. Taking into account the submissions received, the Commission will decide whether to adopt the draft proposal as a final proposal, with or without amendments, or possibly adopt another option.

Q. Will there be a poll on the proposal?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

A. The legislation only provides for a public poll on reorganisation proposals involving some form of amalgamation, abolition of councils or formation of unitary authorities.

Q. What is the time frame around this?

A. The Commission hopes to circulate and consult on a draft proposal in the first half of 2018. This includes a call for submissions and a timetable for hearings.

Q. Assuming the proposal goes ahead, what happens next?

A. If there is a final proposal, responsibilities for preparing district plans will be transferred to the West Coast Regional Council and a joint planning committee of the four councils will begin work on a new combined plan.

Q. When would the joint committee first meet?

A. It is expected the committee will begin meeting in the second half of 2018.  The new plan will have to be developed, approved and released as a draft for submissions, final decisions, and possible appeals. The Commission can’t be sure how long all this will take.

Q. What would happen to the existing district plans?

A.  Existing district plans would remain in place until replaced by the combined district plan.

Q. How can this be said to promote local decision-making and democracy?

A. The proposal retains existing democratic decision-making structures and processes. It also provides for the establishment of a joint committee of all the councils to oversee the preparation of the combined plan. This will enable consideration of local issues and needs within a consistent overall regional approach.

Q. If people disagree with this proposal what can they do about it?

A. They can write a submission to the Commission when it releases its draft proposal early in 2018 and make their views known at one of the hearings the Commission will hold.

Q. Who will bear the costs of the combined planning process?

A. Costs will be apportioned among the four councils. The Commission would also consider providing financial assistance to support the co-ordination required at the set-up stage.

Q. Isn’t this just amalgamation by stealth?

A. No – on the contrary, a move towards more cost-effective collaborative council services reduces the case for amalgamation. Also, if a final proposal for combined planning was to come into effect, this would be the end of the reorganisation process. Any further initiatives towards amalgamation would have to be the subject of an entirely new reorganisation application and process.

Q. Was this decision necessary given the councils were working towards joint planning?

A. The Commission’s decision and subsequent process – if it proceeds to a final proposal – will give certainty to the councils including the necessary governance structure for enabling them to get on with the development of the combined plan.

Brief history of the application

  • In August 2015 the Local Government Commission agreed to assess a reorganisation application seeking change to local government arrangements on the West Coast.
  • The application was lodged by Anthea Keenan and Peter Salter and was supported by a petition with 367 signatures, including significant numbers from each of the three West Coast districts.
  • The Commission began a series of visits to the West Coast including meetings with the applicants, and the region’s mayors, councils and other stakeholders to understand the region’s issues.
  • In March 2016, separate to but alongside progressing the reorganisation application, the Commission and the West Coast councils signed a relationship agreement to collaborate on regional efficiency initiatives with two initiatives identified as initial priorities: roading arrangements and RMA planning services.
  • Between the end of May and early July 2016, the Commission ran an extensive community engagement programme on the West Coast to help gauge levels of community support for change in local government arrangements.
  • In August 2016 the Commission agreed there was sufficient evidence to be satisfied there was demonstrable support in the three districts for some form of change.
  • In February 2017 the Commission invited alternative reorganisation applications and other proposals for change, and received 23 responses including 19 proposing some form of structural reorganisation or shared service arrangement
  • Between February and September 2017 the Commission carried out detailed communities of interest work and commissioned a consultant’s report into financial and operational aspects of possible options.
  • In October 2017, the Commission arranged for a UMR survey to be conducted of the West Coast community to gain an updated picture on support for change and particular change options.
  • In November 2017, the Commission agreed its preferred option for the West Coast.