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Decision on North Rodney application

Decision on North Rodney application

The Local Government Commission has declined an application from a Warkworth-based community group for the creation of a new local authority, independent of Auckland Council.

The Commission has released its decision on the reorganisation application made in November 2013 by the Northern Action Group.

The Northern Action Group submitted a proposal for the creation of a North Rodney Unitary Council, composed of a mayor and five councillors. The boundaries of the proposed new council extended from Puhoi in the south to Te Hana in the north, and included Warkworth, Wellsford and Kawau Island.

The Commission has declined to assess the application. In effect, this means the application does not proceed through the first stage of the reorganisation process.

Commission Chief Executive Officer Donald Riezebos has written to the Northern Action Group with an explanation of the decision.

“The Commission has to follow a series of precise steps under our legislation,” Mr Riezebos said. “Before we can assess any application to reorganise a local authority, we have to make sure it meets a number of criteria. In summary, the application for a new council did not meet a number of tests in order for it to proceed,” Mr Riezebos said.

The tests are set out in clause 7 of schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002.

Mr Riezebos said the tests were not met in the following respects:

there was a lack of clarity about the boundary of the proposed unitary authority;
there was insufficient information to establish demonstrable community support for a new council in parts of the Auckland district outside the North Rodney area; and
it is not in the public interest to assess the application.

Mr Riezebos said the first two tests, regarding the information about boundaries and the level of public support, are not necessarily sufficient reason by themselves to decline to assess an application. In other cases, an applicant might be given an opportunity to correct such a defect in their proposal. However any additional information provided in these two areas would still not outweigh the third test, that of the public interest.
Mr Riezebos said the Commission approached the public interest consideration by breaking it down into two questions:

what impacts would there be on the public if the Commission were to proceed to assess the application?; and
are those impacts sufficiently important that it would not be appropriate for the Commission to assess the application?

He said the Commission took into account that Auckland Council was established less than four years ago. The process that led to the establishment of Auckland Council involved a Royal Commission and legislation specific to the Auckland region. The northern boundary of Auckland Council was subject to considerable debate during this process.

Section 3 of the Local Government (Tamaki Makaurau Reorganisation) Act 2009 stated:

1. local government arrangements for the Auckland region have caused considerable concern for at least 49 years.
2. over the next 99 years, it is expected that the Auckland region will face enormous change brought about by global economic, environmental, and political forces. Local trends, including high population growth, add to the challenges and opportunities the region faces. To meet these challenges and opportunities, Auckland requires local and regional governance of the highest standard.

The Controller and Auditor General has also examined the transition and transformation of former local government structures into the single Auckland Council. Its report in December 2012 stated:

The immediate transition to a unitary council has passed. … Many people we spoke to considered that it will take two to three electoral periods to settle the changes, to consolidate and standardise service systems and processes, to unravel and resolve issues, and to learn how to better understand and manage inherent tensions

The Commission has concluded that Auckland Council would benefit from more than a single electoral period to fully achieve integration and reap the benefits that Parliament intended from its extensive reforms of local government structures in the region.

Potential impacts on the public if the Commission decided to assess the North Rodney application include:

uncertainty and confusion about Auckland governance, which would in turn undermine public confidence in council structures;
substantial extra work would be required of Auckland Council if it had to alter work streams and planning processes to take account of a separate council in North Rodney;
the potential for residents in North Rodney to be deterred from engaging with Auckland Council, for example during its consultation on the proposed unitary plan; and
diversion of Auckland Council time, resources and attention as it seeks to enhance the integration of the council.

The Commission weighed up all these factors and concluded that on balance, it is not in the broader public interest for the Commission to assess the North Rodney application.

ENDS

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