Wellington super city not needed – local govt wonk

Wellington is being strongly urged against rushing into any talks of council amalgamation.

Wellington is being strongly urged against rushing into any talks of council amalgamation.

City council officials have received 1209 public submissions on the region’s local government reforms and some number crunching shows more than two-thirds of submitters want change – whether that be the creation of one super city or two or three bigger councils.

Just 23% of people want the one-council structure, while 45% of residents want to see the nine existing councils, including Wairarapa district, merged into two or three bigger authorities.

Employers’ chamber of commerce president Richard Stone has already come out in support of some reform, confident change will improve regional relations and infrastructure.

“There are far too many gaps in Wellington’s infrastructure network,” he says.

He believes local government reform will fix the problem. “Too often the politics of rival neighbouring cities and districts result in bad regional decisions. Or decisions are delayed because of the territorial battles that occur.”

But AUT local government centre director Peter McKinlay doubts amalgamation is the silver bullet.

“Do you need to merge councils with a whole heap of different communities to get efficiencies? No, you don’t. Authorities need to find better ways of combining together – but not at the expense of local democracy, local choice and local voice.

“The chamber hasn’t got past the idea that local government is like business and the way to save money and improve efficiency is to merge,” Mr McKinlay told NBR ONLINE.

Auckland chamber of commerce CEO Michael Barnett is visiting the Porirua chamber of commerce in August to discuss local government issues facing Wellington and his experience with them.

Mr Barnett says connectivity is a big thing for any city – with the region, the country and the world.

He says Auckland’s super-city model has been all about providing a voice for the region.

“Auckland in the past has been quite fragmented and there has been duplication of resources. People are now looking at the whole of the region and that just gives a greater perspective.

"It’s also absolutely critical business enters into the debate. Together they can work out what’s needed and how local projects will benefit them and font up alongside council to central government.”

But Mr McKinlay believes we are yet to see just how Auckland’s super-city model is working for the city.

“Auckland’s a special case and its issues are complex … a lot more so than Wellington. It could take another five or six years before we truly start seeinghow the amalgamation has benefited the region.”

Mr McKinlay also thinks Wellington’s local reform discussion documents, released by Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council are backward-looking.

"They talk about what the region needs to manage the activities going on at the moment. But what it should be asking is what the region needs going forward 30 to 40 years from now.”

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