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Expert panel to advise on local government reform

27 August, 2013

Expert panel to advise on local government reform

A four-strong independent expert panel led by former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer is to host a public meeting in Kerikeri next month to provide information – and hopefully stimulate public debate on – possible local government reform in Northland.

The meeting has been arranged by the Northland Regional Council as part of its drive to ensure members of the public have as much independent information as possible ahead of looming recommendations by the Local Government Commission on the future shape of local government in Northland.

Regional council Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Nicolson says the commission is still considering what form it believes local government in Northland should take after a bid by the Far North District Council for a unitary authority in its area.

The commission – which is expected to deliver its much-anticipated report later this year – was itself on the road in Northland recently, inviting residents and ratepayers to share their views on the future shape of local government in the region at a series of 11 public meetings due over five days.

Mr Nicolson says the regional council believes that the Monday September 23rd expert panel evening (at the Turner Centre, Cobham Rd, Kerikeri from 7pm) will complement the commission’s meetings and add to the community’s collective pool of knowledge on the reform issue.

“Over about two hours the panel will answer key questions about population trends and consequences, Northland’s economy, constitutional aspects of local government reform and providing effective Maori representation.”

The panellists are:

• Sir Geoffrey Palmer (legal expert and former Prime Minister)
• Dr Ganesh Nana (Chief Economist at Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL))
• Professor Natalie Jackson (Professor of Demography and Director of the Population Studies Centre at the University of Waikato)
• Tipene Marr (one of three dedicated Maori councillors at Bay of Plenty Regional Council).

Mr Nicolson says although an alternative reform proposal put forward by the regional council has called for a number of elected local boards with real, legally-protected powers and budgets supported by a single unitary authority, the panellists’ views will be entirely their own.

“I can’t stress that enough – while the regional council is facilitating this panel, the opinions and advice from its members will be totally independent and reflect the situation and options as they see them.”

Mr Nicolson says members of the public taking part in a series of regional council workshops on proposed reform earlier this year had indicated a clear preference for an enhanced status quo or a local boards/unitary mix.

Given the status quo was already one of the options the commission must investigate, the regional council had indicated there was public support for it, but had specifically introduced the single unitary model as a new alternative.

In putting forward that alternative, the regional council had acknowledged it would require a law change before the desired local boards could be set up in an area with Northland’s relatively low population.

Under current law, an area must have 400,000 people to qualify for local boards, however, Local Government Minister Chris Tremain has confirmed the Government is planning to lower the threshold under upcoming changes to Local Government Act.

Mr Nicolson says while to his knowledge Mr Tremain had still not specified what that new limit would actually be, the regional council understands it’s likely to be available to regions with a population like Northland’s.

Under the regional council’s alternative proposal, local boards could 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.

“Councillors believe this sort of 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 Nicolson says he hopes as many people as possible will take the time to attend the expert panel evening.

ENDS

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