A referendum on the Auckland super-city is not feasible, says Local Government Minister Rodney Hide - despite advocating it as part of future local government decision-making.
Mr Hide is recommending local councils focus more on what he describes as core services, with other projects put to ratepayer referendums.
North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams favours the idea, but says Mr Hide is hypocritical in refusing a referendum on the super-city plan.
Limits on spending and greater use of referendums may be the way of the future for local government, with a Cabinet paper signalling the start of a review of the Local Government Act.
The proposals include councils operating within defined fiscal parameters and opening their books before elections.
Mr Hide says councils should focus on core activities.
At present, there is no definition of core services, though Mr Hide expects it to include transport services such as roads and footpaths, water, and public health and safety services, including rubbish collection.
He says the list would be generous and include services such as libraries.
He also wants to look at whether referendums should be used more often by councils.
Radical agenda - Labour, Greens
Labour and the Greens say it is a radical agenda.
Labour MP Phil Twyford says Mr Hide wants to cut local government by getting rid of cultural, social and environmental activities.
Greens co-leader Russel Norman says the proposal would place great constraints on what local government can do.
Mr Hide says he wants greater transparency and accountability in local government and for ratepayers to have more say.
He will report back to Cabinet on the review by the end of August, and wants to have legislation in place before the 2010 local elections.
Support for referendums
Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws backs the suggestion by Mr Hide to force councils to hold referendums for spending on non-core activities.
Wanganui District Council regularly uses referendums and Mr Laws says they work extraordinarily well and are "much more democratic" than the consultation process.
He says that is because far more people turn out to have their say, rather than just the usual lobbyists and interested parties.
He says 61% of voters took part in the council's most recent referendum.