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West Coast Debates Councillor Numbers Amid Rising Population

The West Coast Regional Council has a population to councillor ratio "significantly more favourable" than other regions around the country.

But with a growing population in the 650km long region, it is being recommended the regional council keep its current representation of seven councillors.

The West Coast has a whopping 37 councillors for 33,000 people once you combine the regional council and the territorial authorities of Buller, Grey, and Westland, which have 30 representatives including mayors.

The regional council this week adopted a recommendation to undertake the required six yearly statutory review of its representation, via public consultation. Public submissions open from June 18.

The matter was workshopped by council in May where the vexed question of the number of councils and the need for amalgamation was raised.

It was also suggested the regional council could drop to six representatives but the question was deferred to staff to check on the legal requirement.

A staff report presented to council this week recommended accepting the 'status quo' of seven and council accepted that be put to the public, with no debate.

West Coast iwi had previously indicated they were not interested in canvassing a Māori ward this time.
Council principal planning and reporting analyst Stewart Genery said previous consultation reviews in 2012 and 2018 resulted in the status quo -- both in number and distribution of councillors.

Keeping that would best met the legislative requirements, Mr Genery said.

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However, council could consult on the number of constituencies, the name and proposed boundary of each, and the number of members for each.

Mr Genary said considerations could include if communities were appropriately represented across the three district/constituency boundaries -- Buller (two councillors), Grey (3), Westland (2).

"No information has surfaced to suggest that communities in the region are not appropriately represented."

The latest census data has revealed the West Coast population has swelled by nearly 2000. The population is now 33,390 -- up 1815 from 31,575 in 2018.

Each district has seen an increase on 2018.

* Buller has risen to 10,446 (2018: 9591),
* Grey: 14,043 (13,344),
* Westland: 8901 (8640).

Mr Genary said based on the Stats NZ forecast data for 2023, the population to representative ratio for the regional council would be 4694, an increase of 61 people per councillor on 2018.

"The population to councillor ratio for the West Coast region is significantly more favourable than any other regional council nationally," he said.

An option to reduce the number of councillors to the legal minimum of six was not recommended as "it will unbalance representation" across the region.

At the same time increasing representation was discounted given the ratio was already significantly more favourable.

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