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Council failures

Many councils in New Zealand are failing their communities. In most areas where local government has a role to play it can not, or will not deliver. This ranges from planning and the associated impacts on housing, to infrastructure, to the basics of democracy itself.

One of the key drivers of New Zealand's housing crisis is the failure of territorial authorities to plan for more homes. One of a territorial authority's core roles is to define what kind of homes are allowed where. Without exception, high growth councils have failed to plan for the quantity and type of homes that would be more affordable for your average New Zealander. It is one of the main reasons why housing is so expensive in both Wellington and New Zealand generally.

The provision of infrastructure is an area where councils just seem unable to do anything much without central government input. Whether it's a provincial dam in Tasman district, new suburban infrastructure in Auckland or transport in Wellington, councils can't deliver without central government funding.

Then there are the avoidable disasters. These include the stinky, like the poo that washes up on Auckland beaches after a decent storm, to the financial, like the cost blowouts on a wastewater scheme in Kaipara, to the truly tragic, like the deadly contaminated water crisis in Havelock North.

Even the key role of engaging people in the democratic process is not done well. Nationwide, turnout hovers at between 40 and 45%. Whatever the reasons for this, it's an appalling figure.

Councillors and council staff will tell you a lot of legitimate reasons why they're hamstrung, and a key factor is the responsibilities and limitations placed on council by central government. But if councils cannot independently deliver important changes for their communities, are they still fit for purpose? Should local government in New Zealand be reformed? If so, how?

Conor Hill was a candidate for the Wellington mayoralty.


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