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Northland - single super council signalled?

Northland Regional Council's December 17 Council meeting

Northland’s local authorities are expected to this week sign up to a formal agreement to work more closely together – but this doesn’t mean they’re moving to amalgamate into a single super council says the region’s Mayoral Forum chair.

Northland Regional Council (NRC) voted in support of the agreement yesterday. Far North and Whangarei district councils are expected to also formally sign up in support towards the end of the week. Kaipara District Council (KDC) kick-started this process by signing up to the agreement at its Wednesday December 11 council meeting.

Northland Mayoral Forum chair Jason Smith said the agreement was “definitely not” a move towards an amalgamated single council for the region.

Northland’s current local government arrangements with one regional council and three district councils would “absolutely” remain in place.

The three year joint regional “triennial agreement” underpins how Northland’s four councils will work together across the region.

The Local Government Commission in 2015 investigated a single amalgamated council for the region after a Far North District Council-initiated call for this to happen.

But Northlanders pushed back against this concept and in June 2015 the commission withdrew its draft single-council proposal.

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However, it said at the time, it still expected the councils to find ways to work more closely together.

The regional “triennial agreement” has grown out of that Local Government Commission position, largely in response to the expectation at that time for closer working relationships across the region’s four councils to be developed.

When announcing its decision not to proceed with its draft proposal for a single Northland Council the commission said “In Northland the councils had also made progress in identifying alternative ways to provide good local government since the draft proposal was released and the Commission hopes to work with the community in building on that momentum.

“The Commission looks forward to collaborating and engaging with councils and communities in Northland …”

NRC councilors signed up to the agreement, voting in its favour at their monthly council meeting. Far North and Whangarei councils to do the same at their council meetings on Thursday.

The Local Government Act 2002 stipulates all Northland councils must sign up to a “triennial agreement” approach in the six months following October’s local body elections. The Act requires this to be done no later than 1 March next year.

It is anticipated the final stage of “triennial agreement” becoming ratified will conclude with its being signed at the next Northland Mayoral Forum on February 24, 2020.

Smith said regions throughout New Zealand were similarly required to work along the same lines. The government would be stepping in, should this not occur.

He said the “triennial agreement” was a continuation of the North’s previous regional commitment of the same nature. It was a high-level document covering the next three years.

He said the agreement was not en route to a single council. But it had definitely grown out of Local Government Commission expectations signaled in 2015 of councils building closer working relationships across the region.

“We are finding ways of working better together,” Smith said.

Organisations party to the agreement include councils’ Northland Forward Together group, Northland Mayoral Forum, Northland Chief Executive Forum, Te Kahu O Taonui (Iwi chairs) and the Iwi Local Government Agencies Chief Executives Forum

Christine Taylor, NRC governance support manager, said the community had expressed its view through numerous avenues that it expected Northland’s local authorities to work together as efficiently and effectively as possible to advance the region’s best interest. The agreement was one vehicle for confirming how this would occur.

The agreement specifically regarded Northland councils’ commitment to be inclusive of and enhance relationships with Maori.

She said any financial implications of the agreement were to be accounted for within existing council budgets.

The seven-page, small print “triennial agreement” has been drafted through the Northland Mayoral and CEOs’ forums.

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