The Local Government Commission yesterday released its proposal for restructuring local government in Northland, a big step in a process that was set in motion by the former mayor of Far North District Council. The Commission’s proposal is to establish one unitary authority to replace FNDC, Whangarei and Kaipara District Councils, and the Northland Regional Council.
The Council would have nine councillors elected from seven wards, and a mayor elected at large. Local voices, we are told, would be heard by way of seven community boards. There would also be a Maori Board, made up of the Mayor and three councillors, and representatives from each of thirteen iwi from across Te Tai Tokerau. The Maori Board would have advisory status only, but not any decision making power.
I have advocated for the maintenance of a two tier model of local government, with strong autonomous local councils and a regional council – the latter perhaps with a little more authority to break any deadlocks that might occur if councils cannot agree about infrastructure or other issues that cross boundaries.
The unitary authority – community board model is not genuinely ‘two tier’, given that the community boards would have no effective power to do much more than manage the local hall or public toilets, and would be resourced only by grace and favour of the council.
I think that the timing is completely wrong to be considering radical structural change. The LGC acknowledges that the existing councils are viable in the short term (the Kaipara financial shambles notwithstanding) so there is no urgency to affect change.
A few weeks ago Northlanders elected new Mayors for Whangarei and the Far North; there is a new Chair of the NRC, and these three (along with the commissioners running Kaipara) have committed to putting the divisiveness of previous years behind them and to work together in the interests of all of Northland. There is a real possibility that peace might break out, and I believe our newly elected representatives should be give an opportunity to make good on their commitment to a more unified approach.
The danger is that we are about to embark on a difficult, uncertain and expensive restructure, when all that might be needed is for better relationships based on respect and goodwill to be established within and between the councils and communities of interests (including of course a significant role for iwi Maori).
Submissions on the proposal maybe made until February 14th, so now is a good time to consider the options and make your views known.