Fresh local government reform draft needed; NRC

19 Feb 2014

The Northland Regional Council has told the Local Government Commission it can’t support its draft proposal for a major revamp of local government in the region in its current form – and has asked it to do more work, then issue a fresh draft.

LG North Report Cover.

Chairman Bill Shepherd says that's the crux of the formal submission the regional council had yesterday filed with the commission ahead of Friday's looming (21 February) deadline for comment on the commission's 'Draft Proposal for Reorganisation of Local Government in Northland'.

The commission (LGC) ended months of speculation in November last year when it announced its preferred local government model for Northland; a single unitary body supported by community boards which would come into existence late next year.

Councillor Shepherd says the regional council (NRC) does not want to lose the opportunity to build the best possible local government model for Northland, but says if any reform is to occur "it's far more important to get any reorganisation done right; rather than to get it done fast".

He says a very tight time-frame set down for the process by the LGC has meant Northlanders haven't had a lot of time to understand and consider some of the very important implications of any change. The council also feels the commission needs to provide much more information across a range of areas.

Councillor Shepherd says collectively the NRC does agree with the commission that a single Northland-wide voice would be a significant advantage when advocating to central government and other parties and should deliver better plans and more efficient services.

"But of greater concern to us at this point, and at the heart of our opposition to the LGC's current recommendation, is the commission's heavy reliance on 'community boards'. We think much stronger 'local boards' with their own powers and budgets are needed and given the law is changing to allow for them in Northland, we think the commission should wait until that change then issue a fresh draft reorganisation proposal."

In a similar vein, the council felt any final proposal by the LGC should also wait until the law could be changed to allow a wider range of options for Māori representation/decision-making.

He says the council's full submission covers many areas including its position on debt, claimed costs savings, service delivery, ward boundaries and where any new council should be based and is available on its website via www.nrc.govt.nz/LGreform

Councillors and staff had spent a great deal of time and effort in recent months investigating the pros and cons of the draft proposal and he and his fellow councillors were very grateful to the many Northlanders who had met with them – and shared their own views – on it.

"Since the LGC issued its draft proposal we've held public meetings in Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Omapere and Russell in the Far North and Kaiwaka in Kaipara late last year. More recently (after the holiday break) we've had further meetings in Ruakaka, Tutukaka, Parua Bay and Whangarei. We've also taken up invitations to meet with business groups in Kerikeri and Whangarei, with Kaipara ratepayer groups in Dargaville and with the Rural Education Activities Programme (REAP) in Kaitaia. We also recently took part in a panel on reform at Waitangi marae."

Councillor Shepherd says local democracy is important "and for it to work it needs local communities to engage".

"We're delighted that people have taken the time to engage with us and they have helped us shape our views and our formal submission."

Meanwhile, he says as with the three district councils in Northland, the regional council is continuing to encourage people to make their own submissions to the LGC ahead of its Friday deadline.

"With that deadline, the ball will be very much back in the Local Government Commission's court in terms of the next steps in the process and we'll be keeping a close watch on – and continuing to advocate on the community's behalf – as the process does continue."