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Strong local and regional governance needed in Waikato

Good local government in the Waikato requires strong governance at both a local and regional level, a parliamentary select committee has been told today by Waikato Regional Council.

The local government and environment select committee has been holding hearings in Hamilton on the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill.

Regional council chairman Peter Buckley and deputy chief executive Clare Crickett presented a submission to the committee, reiterating the council’s support for the Government’s push to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government.

Cr Buckley said: “The regional council is keen to work with others and play a constructive role in helping to build a more competitive and export-driven economy, balanced against the need to protect the environment.”

However, he said that to achieve the objectives of the Better Local Government reforms, the regional council believed a number of changes would be helpful to the draft legislation around the purpose of local government, and reorganisation of local authorities.

Ms Crickett said the council believed the purpose of local government should continue to include the promotion of the “four wellbeings” – environmental, economic, social and cultural.

“This purpose has been in use now for the past 10 years and is now clearly understood. It allows communities the ability to seek what they need from their local government.”

“Local authorities are under the ultimate control of their communities through the democratic process. This is a better check than that proposed in the Bill.”

There was also concern that insufficient weight was provided in the Bill for strategic planning, which is vital for regional economic success and environmental sustainability.

“Strategic planning has the potential to develop the regional economy and make better use of regional and national resources. The value of spatial planning is recognised for Auckland, and it seems sensible that spatial planning should be within the purpose of all local authorities,” Ms Crickett said.

The regional council urged caution in relation to provisions which suggested local reform proposals could only go ahead if more than half of voters polled agreed. A poll can be hijacked by narrow interest groups and not necessarily have regard to the long term or wider view.

Public support can be tested in various ways, including opinion polls which could guide a final Local Government Commission decision on reorganisation proposals.

Ms Crickett said regional councils have a distinct role that should be reflected in legislation. “The Local Government Act would better support good local governance, if it recognised that territorial authorities and regional councils have distinct roles to play. If these different roles were made more explicit in the Local Government Act, there would be less confusion and conflict between territorial authorities and regional councils, and a better public understanding of their respective roles.”

The committee was presented with information about the role of the regional council in Waikato, including its:

  • ability to take an integrated regional overview
  • extensive flood management network and other hazard management
  • environmental resource management
  • pest control
  • provision of public transport
  • implementation of Waikato River co-management legislation.

Meanwhile, regional councillors met in a workshop today to discuss the Government’s reform plans. The workshop was focusing on ideas for effective governance and delivery of functions of local government in the Waikato.

To read the submissions to the committee, please visit www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/lgconf 

 

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