'Extremely challenging’ time in store for West Coast council

1:58 pm on 30 August 2022

A rush of late nominations for the Buller ward of the West Coast Regional Council has seen 10 candidates - nine of them men - put their hands up at the 11th hour.

West Coast Regional Councillor Laura Coll McLaughlin, of Westport.

Outgoing West Coast Regional Councillor Laura Coll McLaughlin says the new council will face challenges including the implementation of the draft Te Tai o Poutini Plan. Photo: Supplied

Only a few days before the deadline there were no nominations for the ward.

Whoever wins the two seats will face an "extremely challenging" three years, say councillors Laura Coll McLaughlin and John Hill, both of whom are stepping down after one term.

Coll McLaughlin, the council's youngest member, cited the high workload and prior commitments, but said she would consider standing again in the future.

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Hill also cited the extreme time commitment and the need for younger people to stand.

Internal ructions and changes of chief executives and staff have featured in the current triennium.

At the same time, the council's workload has grown exponentially; in 2019 it was ordered to formulate a new combined district plan for Westland, Grey and Buller districts.

A raft of national policy and law changes which will radically change traditional land use on the West Coast were also of note.

Hill said the next three years posed significant challenges, including further local government reform.

"This term will be the last term of local government as we know it," he said.

West Coast Regional Councillor John Hill, of Cape Foulwind.

Outgoing West Coast Regional Councillor John Hill says he expects to see a new model of local government, with a centralised structure, imposed before next year's general election. Photo: Supplied

The new council will have to shepherd the Westport flood protection scheme, realise the other big regional protection projects and finish Te Tai o Poutini Plan (TTPP).

"To me, the big challenge for the new council is hopefully to accept the government funding and to administer that properly, efficiently and quickly," he said.

Hill expected to see a new model of local government with a centralised structure along "similar lines to the DHBs" imposed before the 2023 general election.

"It's a diminishment of democracy, that's the way I see it."

While it might be sold as a "reduction in costs", that was hard to see, he said.

"The TTPP, by its definition should have been a money-saving exercise - but it's not, it's costing a fortune."

Coll McLaughlin, also a member of the TTPP committee, said the next term would be challenging but would also bring opportunities.

It could more-directly engage with West Coast residents to comply with the new national policy directions, as well as implementing the TTPP.

She said there was now a "mature understanding" within the council of natural hazards and how to approach them.

The West Coast Regional Council chambers in Greymouth.

The West Coast Regional Council chambers in Greymouth. Photo: Supplied / Greymouth Star

Positively, Coll McLaughlin said, the government was indicating it was prepared to support the region in that work, "which we clearly can't afford to do on our own".

Implementing the draft TTPP would be a big job, including the cost implications for residents.

"Negotiating the next stage of the district plan process will be hard ... The regional council will need to be really good with communication with the community: what its duties are and taking the community with us.

"It's not so much that we haven't done it well, it's that we're entering a period where business as usual won't cut it anymore."

The Westland ward of the regional council has five candidates for two seats, and the Grey ward has four candidates for three seats.

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