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Single unitary with strong community representation; NRC

9 April, 2013

Single unitary with strong community representation; NRC

The Northland Regional Council (NRC) is recommending seven local boards with real, legally-protected powers – supported by a single unitary authority – as an alternative form of local government in the region.

However, the regional council’s proposal – approved today (subs: Tuesday 09 April) and to be lodged with the Local Government Commission by Monday 15 April – also makes special mention of strong community support for the retention of the status quo.

Council Chairman Craig Brown says as part of its work processing a bid by the Far North District Council to become a unitary authority in its area, the commission had recently asked other councils in the region to put forward alternatives by the mid-April deadline.

As part of its work on an alternative proposal, a recent series of public consultation workshops and meetings by the NRC in Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Whangarei, Dargaville and Mangawhai over the past fortnight had attracted 167 participants.

“Of the participants willing to express an opinion, the two most favoured options by a considerable margin were either an enhanced version of the status quo or a single local authority underpinned by strong, legally-empowered local boards.”

Councillors attending an extraordinary meeting in Whangarei today (subs: Tuesday 09 April) to discuss the reform issue were told opinion between those two most popular alternatives had been split virtually down the middle, Mr Brown says.

Given the status quo was already one of the options the commission was legally bound to investigate, the regional council had decided to indicate the level of support for the status quo in its alternative proposal, but had specifically introduced the single unitary model as a new alternative.

Under the proposed single unitary model, the region would have seven local boards with yet-to-be-determined – but very real – enshrined powers and budgets to enable local decision-making at a grassroots level. (A law change would still be required to allow those boards to be established in Northland.)

In turn, the boards would be supported by a single regional body, made up of nine councillors (elected from seven wards) and a single mayor, elected from across the entire region.

“We believe this model would deliver truly local decision-making and efficient delivery of local services, but also allow Northland to effectively speak with one collective voice on issues of regional significance when required.”

Mr Brown says the regional council acknowledged that many opportunities for the existing arms of local government to work together over the years had been squandered due to disagreements between them.

Meanwhile, he says while the regional council had recently changed its constituency boundaries for this year’s local body election with the commission’s blessing, it was important to take into account those wards were not necessarily the ones which would come into play under any single unitary model.

The final shape of any proposal recommended by the commission (including potential ward boundaries) was up to the commission – and the commission alone – to determine, albeit taking into account the public’s wishes.

Similarly, the commission had already made clear that the issue of Maori representation on any new council or councils would be up to those new bodies themselves to determine.

“We believe – and our consultation to date has reinforced this – that the Maori representation issue is a matter of real significance that any new council would be required to address as a matter of priority once any transition to a new structure was underway.”

Mr Brown says while he believes both his fellow councillors – and indeed many in the wider Northland community - would have liked more time to better research the implications of any reform, the commission had been adamant over its 15 April deadline.

“Despite this tight deadline, we’re grateful to all those who taken part in the process to date at what was reasonably short notice. It’s now effectively over to the commission to lead the process from here on in.”

Mr Brown says if the commission decides it does want to change the current model of local government in Northland in any way, it will put forward a proposal and invite public submissions over the coming months.

“If that happens, we will continue to seek input from the public to ensure any subsequent submission we make on their behalf is as robust as possible.”

Mr Brown says staff will now make final edits to the alternative proposal ahead of the 15 April deadline. Once completed, it will be available from the regional council’s website via: www.nrc.govt.nz/LGreform


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