A menu of options for local government reform will allow Waikato people to consider the council structure that best delivers the benefits of regional size and scale while enhancing local representation, says the regional council’s policy and strategy committee.
The committee yesterday recommended that the council advocates for further changes to the Local Government Act to allow for a range of options to be available to communities considering local governance into the future.
Currently, there are limited options available to Waikato. For example, a two-tier system of local government is available only to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. This model would allow for a larger local authority and local boards.
“An important principle to test any proposed restructuring against is whether the model provides the Waikato region with strong local democracy and the benefits of region-wide planning and decision-making,” said committee chair Paula Southgate.
“I took heart from Local Government Minister Chris Tremain’s letter to the council saying his officials were looking at two-tier governance and the scope for improving existing mechanisms and structures, as well as potential new ones.”
Under new legislation passed late last year only largely urban areas with a population of more than 400,000 can restructure into a two-tier model. As the law stands, if council amalgamations were to occur, Waikato would not be able to have strong regional and local governance models anchored by legislation because its communities are predominantly rural and dispersed.
The current Waikato local government model includes a regional council and 11 territorial councils.
Council chairman Peter Buckley said local government leaders in Waikato were focusing on shared services, rather than restructuring, but it was important to future proof the region.
“We aren’t talking about amalgamations, choosing instead to work together to increase efficiencies that will help boost the regional economy and deliver multi-million dollar cost savings.
“But we need to be sure there is legislation protecting Waikato people’s ability to influence the shape of their local communities should there be restructuring some way down the line,” he said.
“Whatever happens in the future, people must continue to have a strong local voice in their own communities.”
Local boards share governance with the governing body and have a clearly legislated broad purpose to enable democratic decision making and give effect to local government at the community level. They can also make by-laws and decide on non-regulatory issues affecting their communities.
Community boards, on the other hand, are less certain over the long term as they have a limited life of six years and are subject to political whim.
Waikato Regional Council’s 12 principles for assessing any proposal for change to local government in the Waikato region
Councillors say the form and function of local government in the Waikato region should ensure that:
- there is effective local government at the local community and regional level
- there is strong united and uniting leadership at the local community and regional level
- there is one clear voice for the Waikato region with respect to matters of regional significance
- at the regional level there is a process for strategic integrated planning, at least with respect to land use, transport, hazards, infrastructure and economic development
- planning in the Waikato region is simplified, and there is one primary RMA plan for the region which encompasses the current regional plans and district plans
- there is a clear and unambiguous division of responsibilities for regional and local community authorities
- the effectiveness and efficiency of local government procurement, infrastructure management and service provision is improved
- local government units have adequate capacity and capability to successfully carry out their roles and responsibilities in a way which is affordable to communities
- current legislative entitlements for iwi (such as through treaty settlement legislation) are supported
- water management occurs on a whole of catchment basis
- local government is successful across the whole region
- there is strong community support for any change.