Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

39

Wellington Super City? Not even if it’s the best idea ever.

The Local Government Commission has released a Draft Proposal for Reorganisation of Local Government in Wellington.

It proposes a region-wide governance structure, with a single overarching council replacing the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the Carterton District Council, the Hutt City Council, the Kapiti Coast District Council, the Masterton District Council, the Porirua City Council, the South Wairarapa District Council, the Upper Hutt City Council and the Wellington City Council.

I have not read it. I do not care what arguments it arrays in support of its conclusion. There is simply no conceivable rationale that could lead me to vote in favour of one.

The super council may be literally the Best. Idea. Ever. We may be literally 100% certain that every positive outcome suggested will be achieved, and every negative fear unrealised, and I will still not vote in favour of it, because the law under which local government reorganisations occur is now so appalling, I will refuse to endorse a result I cannot be certain is widely supported within the whole region, whatever my own views (presently sceptical).

The law used to be different. Until December 2012, the basic system was:

  • The Local Government Commission would look into suggestions for reorganising local government in an area.
  • After consultation, it would make a final recommendation, and if it proposed a reorganisation of local councils, then each of the districts affected would hold a referendum of their residents and ratepayers, and if a majority in each affected council area agreed to a reorganisation, it would happen.

This is the process which was used in 2005, when referendums in the Banks Peninsular District and Christchurch City agreed to the dissolution of the Banks Peninsular District Council, with that area’s inclusion in Christchurch.

That is not the law now. In 2012, the National Government amended this law in a couple of important ways:

  • The requirement to hold a public vote was abolished. This was replaced with a provision allowing a vote if 10% of the voting age residents of an affected area signed a petition within 6 months 60 working days requiring there to be a vote. Given voter engagement in local body issues, a petition requiring that many signatures in that amount of time will generally be a major undertaking, and seems designed to avoid seeking public approval (although in this instance it may not be, given that one of the affected areas – a proposed changes around the Tararua area – affects 11 property owners).
  • More importantly, the referendums have been replaced with a referendum. And that “S” is crucially important. Rather than holding a vote in each affected area, a single vote is held over the whole area. This means that the residents of one area who are perfectly content with their current local council can have their local council taken away from them if the residents of another area decide to compulsorily acquire it.

Like all government, local government is a question about priorities. Will rates come down under a super council? I don’t know. Will services increase? I don’t know that either. But if the majority of residents in an area with a functioning district council are happy to pay higher rates, or receive lesser services in exchange for local control of their local affairs, that should be a matter for them.

The new rules for reorganisation of local government disagree. They say that the people who should have the greater say over how Masterton and Upper Hutt are governed are not the residents of Masterton and Upper Hutt, but the more numerous residents of Porirua and Wellington City.

I am sure some members of the South Wairarapa District support a super council: based on an un-sourced tweet I saw a few days ago, as many as 15% of the ratepayers in the area may be Wellingtonians, and others might see benefits in economies of scale, or greater region-wide co-operation. But I do not know whether a majority in the South Wairarapa District will support it, and I will not risk being a part of a region-wide majority that forces them to abandon their present local council against their will.

And  whatever your view on the merits of a super council  if you get a vote on it, neither should you.

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