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Fresh approach needed to strengthen the Wellington region

Date: 18 Dec 2017

The Local Government Commission recommends Wellington’s councils take joint action on the urban area’s transport and planning challenges.

These recommendations follow from the work carried out by the Commission and councils following the 2015 decision not to progress the draft proposal for a single Wellington unitary council. The councils’ response to these will  mark a formal closing off of the reorganisation process set in motion in 2013 by applications from the Wairarapa councils and the Greater Wellington Regional Council for structural change to local government in the region.

Commission Chair Sir Wira Gardiner noted significant progress had been achieved in some areas towards strengthening the Wellington region but there was more work to be done.

“During the reorganisation process, and in responding to the Commission’s draft proposal for a unitary authority, Wellington communities made it clear they did not favour large scale amalgamation of the entire region,’’ Sir Wira said. “However, many respondents wanted councils to explore options for better decision-making and more cost-effective delivery of local government services.’’

“That was the challenge we jointly faced with councils and local government leaders: first to identify the most pressing issues, then to work with councils towards delivering improved value to ratepayers.

Sir Wira cited water services, land transport and integrated planning as being particular focus areas for progress in the region, especially the Wellington urban area.

“Wellington Water, which was created during the reorganisation, is looking like a success story.  The shareholder councils and their residents and ratepayers are now much better placed to achieve greater efficiency, effectiveness and resilience in the three waters services,’’ Sir Wira said.

“We congratulate the councils on their progress in this vital sector and encourage them to  keep on supporting Wellington Water’s efforts to get even more value for money for rate-payers. ’’

Sir Wira noted the interdependency of the region’s districts and how there was much to be gained for residents and ratepayers through taking a new approach to land transport and integrated planning.

“Metropolitan Wellington, including the urban area of Wellington City, Porirua, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt and the Kāpiti Coast, functions as a single city with the daily lives of citizens spanning local authority boundaries.

“Addressing the complex but significant challenges in land transport, and land use and infrastructure planning across the urban area as a whole will ultimately enable Wellington  to deliver enhanced services for its communities,’’ Sir Wira said.

In addition to land transport and land-use planning, he noted other important cross-boundary issues that would benefit from close council collaboration such as housing affordability, economic growth, infrastructure resilience, and climate change adaptation.

The Commission has asked councils for formal responses to its recommendations by 30 April next year.

The Commission’s recommendations

  1. The Local Government Commission recommends that Wellington City, Porirua City, Upper Hutt City, Hutt City and Kāpiti Coast District and Greater Wellington Regional Council:

1.1.    Note that integrating planning for urban Wellington issues that cross council boundaries would enable more comprehensive solutions, speed up joint action, save councils’ money, and reduce the social costs and productivity losses due to delayed action

1.2.    Note that fragmentation is impacting on the productivity of the urban Wellington transport network

1.3.    Note that an effective, timely response to these issues will require a new approach from mayors and councillors

1.4.    Build on your experience with Wellington Water, to set up

  • a robust, productive joint council governance arrangement to make decisions and oversee action to address the urban area’s integrated planning and transport issues and
  • a dedicated team of officials to support this joint governance group

1.5.    Note that the development of new arrangements for urban Wellington should not be at the expense of appropriate whole-of-region decision-making including the Wairarapa and other rural parts of the region.

  1. The Commission recommends Wellington City, Porirua, Upper Hutt, Hutt City and Greater Wellington Regional Council continue to actively support the development of Wellington Water and specifically support:

2.1.    Maintenance of the trusted advisor basis of the relationship between Wellington Water and the councils

2.2.    Implementation of the one budget concept  

2.3.    Wellington Water’s development of optimised 10-year Service Plans and 30-year Infrastructure Plans

2.4.    Wellington Water to develop a more direct relationship with customers

2.5.    Wellington Water to have the scope to respond to emergencies in an agile manner.

  1. The Commission recommends that South Wairarapa, Carterton, Masterton and Kāpiti Coast District Councils consider whether joining Wellington Water could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their three-waters services to residents and ratepayers.
  2. The Commission requests the Wellington region’s councils provide a written response to these recommendations by 30 April 2018. 
  3. The Commission recommends that the Minister of Local Government notes these recommendations to councils and the timeline for their response.

Context

Applications from councils for amalgamation

In May and June 2013 the Local Government Commission (the Commission) received two applications for changes to the structure of Wellington local authorities.  These were:

  • An application from South Wairarapa, Carterton, and Masterton District Councils for a single unitary council for the whole of the Wairarapa (a unitary council being responsible for the roles and functions of both a territorial authority – the district councils in this case – and a regional council).
  • An application from Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) for a unitary council for the whole of the Wellington region, including the Wairarapa.

In December 2014, after undertaking a series of investigations and public consultation, the Commission publicly notified a draft proposal for a single region-wide unitary council, and invited public submissions. The public was generally opposed to the draft proposal.  

Community rejects large scale amalgamation

In June 2015, in response to the consultation process, the Commission withdrew that proposal, but decided to continue the reorganisation process with the aim of identifying a new preferred option which would be more likely to achieve widespread community support. While the community had not supported a ‘super-council’ for the Wellington region, many expressed support for smaller scale change.

Reflecting on the experience of the earlier process, the Commission decided that a different, more collaborative approach to working with the region’s councils and their communities would be undertaken.

Councils and Commission explore council services with cross-boundary implications

Four council service areas were identified in consultation with the councils as key to the region’s future prosperity:

  • transport, covering roading and public transport across the region
  • water services for the three waters (drinking water, waste water and storm water)  
  • spatial planning in metropolitan Wellington, which includes Wellington City, Porirua, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt and Kāpiti
  • economic development across the region

With the support and assistance of councils and council staff, technical reports on these areas were completed. These reports were presented to councils for their consideration in 2016.

The recommendations paper draws heavily from these reports.

The Commission’s recommendations are not binding but councils are required by legislation to formally respond to them (sections 30 and 31 of the Local Government Act 2002).