As successive Ministers of Local Government, Nick Smith and David Carter loudly criticised councils for their debt level and said councils needed to focus on “core services “ without defining what these were.
Last year National made major changes to the Local Government Act so that the purpose of local government was no longer the promotion of the community’s social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing but the provision of cost effective infrastructure, services and regulation.
Now Sports Minister Murray McCully proposes to offload the financially troubled Eden Park onto Auckland Council with the risk of ratepayer bailouts being needed.
In Christchurch Minister Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority are pushing an extravagant covered 35,000 seat stadium on citizens as part of the Christchurch rebuild.
There are much higher priorities for council funds (such as the many yet to be repaired community halls, swimming polls and other facilities. The city already has a perfectly adequate “temporary” rugby stadium in Addington which is not always filled, even for Crusaders matches. A new uncovered 35,000 seat stadium would cost a jaw dropping $220 million and a covered one even more.
Ministers McCully and Brownlee obviously have a much broader interpretation of what is a core council service than Dr Nick Smith. The Eden Park offload highlights the irrational and ideologically driven nature of National’s changes to local government legislation.
Councils are accountable to citizens who elect them. Instead of meddling in local government and directing what projects and services councils should provide, National should let councils make their own decisions. Those decisions should focus on providing the services that communities need: from drinking water to social housing to libraries and effective public transport. As Dunedin City Council has found to its cost , a stadium can be an expensive luxury.