13 Jun 2012

Bill overhauling local council rules passes first reading

8:52 am on 13 June 2012

Legislation that would radically revamp local authorities has passed its first reading in Parliament.

The Local Government Amendment Bill is aimed at controlling council spending and reducing rates increases and council debt.

Local Government Minister David Carter says local authorities would be expected to focus on providing good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost.

The bill also looks at streamlining procedures for councils and communities to apply for amalgamation.

Labour MP Phil Twyford says the legislation opens the door to forced amalgamations and is an assault on the democratic rights of communities.

Napier mayor Barbara Arnott says individual communities should decide what kind of council they want to run their region.

"By changing the rules it would mean that small places like Wairoa and central Hawke's Bay and even Napier would be sublimated to a bigger authority, and I think that is wrong.

"I think communities should be able to make choices for their own future."

However David Carter told Morning Report the mergers won't happen unless there is widespread support.

"It's giving the ability for local councils to have a look at their structures, have a look at their boundaries, see if they can deliver it more efficiently and if they want to deliver it more efficiently we're going to streamline the process so the Local Government Commission can actually assist in that process."

The Green Party says spending caps will stop councils undertaking necessary infrastructure work.

The bill passed its first reading on Tuesday by 61 votes to 59.