Greetings and welcome to the latest Local Government Commission newsletter. The newsletter provides information about the work of the Commission and aims to contribute to discussion of local government structures and good practice generally. Details for how to unsubscribe or how to contact us for more information can be found at the end of the newsletter.
A MESSAGE FROM SIR WIRA GARDINER, KNZM, (CHAIR)
Joining forces in the Wairarapa …
In mid-2013, the South Wairarapa District Council, Carterton District Council and Masterton District Council put forward an application to the Local Government Commission to form a single unitary council for the Wairarapa. An application from the Greater Wellington Regional Council for a Wellington “Super City’’ followed hard on its heels. These two proposals set in motion a process which, finally, has an end in sight.
The intervening history has been well-traversed, but I thought it important, as we go forward with a draft proposal for a Wairarapa District Council, to recall that the idea of working together to achieve the best possible local government arrangements for the district is not a new one.
This proposal, then, marks a major milestone for the Wairarapa community, the Commission and the rest of the Wellington region. It is the culmination of more than 18 months’ work by mayors, councillors, council staff, the Commission, and by the generous, active Wairarapa residents who have given us their time and thoughtful feedback.
Since withdrawing the proposal for a single region-wide unitary council for Wellington in mid-2015, our approach has been to go back to the community and listen directly to what local people want from their local government.
In the Wairarapa we held a series of public engagement events in 2016 to include the community at all stages of development of the proposal. Most recently we asked what local government should look like – investigating what structures would best promote good local government, meet community interests, and facilitate economic performance.
Community feedback in the Wairarapa was clear – there was strong support for a combined district council. Taking this into account and considering many factors, the Commission concluded that, on balance, the Wairarapa District Council option would best promote good local government in the area and has released a draft proposal to that effect.
This is not a reflection on current councils’ performance. It is about future-proofing Wairarapa’s local government and creating a council more resilient to the challenges ahead.
As the name suggests, the essence of the proposal is a single Wairarapa District Council combining the existing three councils, South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton. There would be a single mayor elected from across the district, 12 ward councillors from seven wards, and 21 elected community board members from five boards centred round the five main towns.
The district would remain part of the Wellington region with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) continuing its current roles and responsibilities; but there would also be a new Wairarapa Committee of the GWRC to strengthen Wairarapa input into regional council issues affecting the district. There would be a Rural Standing Committee and a Maori Standing Committee to ensure appropriate input from rural communities and from marae, hapu and iwi.
We have worked closely with the Wairarapa councils at each stage of preparing this draft proposal, building on their original 2013 application to the Commission, where possible. Our robust relationship with mayors and councillors in the district gives us the ability to work constructively together and sometimes, agree to disagree. We hope and expect this will continue through the submissions process.
Likewise, we encourage the wider Wairarapa community to provide feedback on the proposal. It represents a significant change to local government arrangements in the district, but in the end it will only proceed if the majority wants it to. Our experience to date has been of a passionately involved and constructive community willing to contribute thoughtful ideas without fear or favour. Long may that continue.
On 1 March, Local Government Minister Anne Tolley announced the appointment of Brendan Duffy as a temporary member of the Commission. We are delighted to have Brendan on board. He has had a long career in local government having held the roles of councillor for 10 years, then Mayor of the Horowhenua District Council for 12 years.
He chaired the Provincial Sector of Local Government NZ for six years, was Zone 3 chair for nine years and he held the position of Vice-President of LGNZ for three years. His governance experience is well respected by elected members across New Zealand. He is the Deputy Chair of the MidCentral District Health Board and is also a Justice of the Peace.
In addition, with his wife Sheryl, Brendan has run a successful manufacturing business in Levin for the last 30 years, currently employing 22 staff providing products across New Zealand and internationally.
Brendan’s experience in local government will be invaluable, particularly as we continue to work through the Wairarapa process. We expect him to play a full role, along with Commissioner Janie Annear and myself, in hearing submissions on the draft proposal, and in subsequent deliberations and decisions.
As most people in the sector will be aware, the Better Local Services reforms continue to work their way through the system. It is expected that the select committee will report back to Parliament in mid-June. The Local Government Commission is independent of both the Bill and the process, but the Minister of Local Government, Hon Anne Tolley, recently pointed to some changes in the proposed legislation relating to our role and function. In a speech to the Local Government New Zealand Rural and Provincial Sector meeting in March, Mrs Tolley said:
I understand your headline concern with the Bill is the proposed potential for the Local Government Commission to create multiply-owned council-controlled organisations (CCOs) without the agreement of all affected local authorities.
The policy objective behind this proposal was aimed at preventing local authorities from perpetually vetoing reform proposals to the detriment of their own local communities. The Bill was never intended to enable the Commission to impose CCOs without full consultation with local authorities and communities. So the Government’s position is that the power for the Commission to create multiply-owned CCOs without the agreement of all affected local authorities should be removed from the reform programme.
It is a change that is consistent with the intention that the Commission plays a collaborative and more proactive role, with close engagement with local authorities, for the benefit of both councils and the wider community.
I have taken the liberty of quoting the Minister at some length because her words align with the direction the Commission has taken during my tenure as chair. Over the last two years, we have worked hard to engage in a transparent, collaborative and constructive manner with all our friends and colleagues in the local government sector, and with the constituents they represent – both in areas where we are running statutory reorganisation processes and elsewhere.
I believe we have achieved considerable success in this – making ourselves available, proactively seeking to interact with the sector and communities, communicating openly about our processes and programmes and always acting professionally towards shared goals of promoting good local government for the benefit of our communities.
Nāku noa, nā
Chair, Local Government Commission
The full details of the draft proposal for a Wairarapa District Council, including what happens next, are available at www.lgc.govt.nz or in our booklets and pamphlets available from Wairarapa council offices and libraries. Submissions close on 3 May and there will be public hearings in the Wairarapa in late May for those who wish to speak to their submissions.
Early in March the Commission released a record of the community engagement programme it ran between September and December last year. The purpose of the engagement was to hear from the Auckland community, particularly residents and/or ratepayers of Rodney and Waiheke Island, about Auckland local government arrangements, following the applications for unitary councils for both areas.
Commission staff conducted about 200 individual in-depth interviews with local residents and more than 300 people attended the public meetings. Close to 300 online questionnaires were submitted.
The engagement revealed that many people think improvements could be made to local government arrangements in Auckland to reflect the local needs of more isolated and/or rural areas in Auckland. However, there is a wide variety of views about what improvements are needed and how they could be attained. For example some suggest a separate council for their local area while others want the benefits of being part of Auckland but support enhancements to current local board arrangements.
The next step in the Auckland reorganisation process is for the Commission to identify the “reasonably practicable options’’ for local government in the area. As part of this process, it has commissioned consultants Morrison Low to conduct detailed and impartial technical analysis of a number of potential options, including the status quo.
In late March the Commission invited those who sent in alternative proposals to a briefing on the assessment framework and assumptions that would underpin Morrison Low’s work, seeking feedback from those who attended.
From this and other research, including communities of interest considerations, the Commission will identify its preferred option and, if this is not the status quo, prepare a draft proposal for public consultation.
WAIRARAPA AND WELLINGTON
Information Days: Lead advisor Kay Baxter discusses the draft proposal with an interested member of the public at the Masterton Farmers’ Market.
Following the release of the draft proposal for a Wairarapa District Council, Commission staff held a number of public information days in the Wairarapa during the first two weekends in April. The purpose of these was to help make the public aware of the proposal, to answer questions about it and to encourage people to make submissions on it.
Staff set up stands in 10 separate venues over six days, publicising these sessions through radio, newspaper and poster advertising. Over the first three days, Commission staff talked or handed out material to almost 300 people in Masterton, Martinborough, Greytown and Carterton. During the following three days in Masterton, Carterton, Greytown and Featherston, the numbers were similar.
Members of the public have been able to make submissions on pamphlet forms delivered to 21,000 homes in the Wairarapa and available at council offices and libraries, in an online form, or in writing to the Commission. At the time of publication of this newsletter, the Commission had received about 300 submissions but is expecting a good number more as the deadline of 3 May approaches.
Hearings, attended by Commissioners, are to be held towards the end of May. Those wishing to speak to their submissions at the hearings can call 0800 816 400 (before 4pm on Wednesday 3 May) to make a time.
The mid-March release of the Wairarapa draft proposal means that the reorganisation process in the rest of the Wellington region is coming to an end. Over the last 20 months, we have been working with the Wellington region mayoral forum on a range of council functions that could potentially be delivered more effectively by increasing council collaboration.
These included transport, three waters, economic development and spatial planning. The Commission has presented the councils with technical reports on these areas. Councils have made some progress to take up the opportunities identified. In particular, Wellington Water has made excellent progress towards implementing recommendations made in the three waters technical report.
To close off the council functions work, we will record the progress made and make recommendations to councils on the challenges yet to be grappled with in a short report. We will be asking all Wellington councils to respond to our report within the same time frame. We hope this will enable the councils to make a joint response. This report will become the formal conclusion to the 2013 reorganisation application for a super city for the region.
The Commission called for alternative applications or other proposals for change to West Coast local government arrangements on 1 February 2017. This followed the Commission receiving a local government reorganisation application from two West Coast residents, supported by a petition, in 2015. The deadline for submissions was 15 March 2017. Twenty-three were received.
The next step in the process is for the Commission to identify the reasonably practicable options for local government arrangements on the West Coast and then identify its preferred option. The reasonably practicable options must include the status quo. Consultants Martin Jenkins have been engaged to assist in this process, particularly in respect of the financial and operational analysis of possible options. The Commission hopes to be in a position to make a decision on its preferred option in the latter part of the year.
In parallel to the reorganisation process, the Commission has worked with the four West Coast councils to commission reports on RMA planning processes and regional transport arrangements on the West Coast. Final reports on these matters were presented to the West Coast Mayors and Chair Forum on 13 February 2017 and published on the Commission’s website (www.lgc.govt.nz).
Commissioner Leigh Auton, Chief Executive Suzanne Doig and Northland Lead Advisor Renata Sain attended the Northland Regional Governance Strategic Forum (elected members from the four councils) in Northland on 28 February. The Forum heard a number of presentations on shared service initiatives progressing in the region including those related to the key areas of broadband, four waters and transport.
The Commission was pleased to see councils collaborating on these critical community services. The progress made thus far is a good example of the benefits that can come from the Commission supporting councils to look at options beyond structural change.
We are now working on the next steps for Northland, including what further recommendations the Commission may wish to make, and/or recommendations for formally closing the process.