10 Jun 2015

Super city debates continue

12:41 pm on 10 June 2015

There is disappointment on both sides of the super city debate after the idea was scrapped for the Wellington region, but moved a step closer for Hawke's Bay councils.


Wellington Photo: 123RF

People who backed merging the Wellington region's nine councils are vowing to keep pushing for something other than the status quo.

Plans were scrapped by the Local Government Commission yesterday because there was little support for one greater council for the entire region.

But similar plans in Hawke's Bay are a step closer, and opponents say they are ramping up their fight against merging councils.

Napier mayor Bill Dalton finds the idea of a Hawke's Bay super city less than super.

"[I'm] naturally disappointed but of course it was absolutely expected.

"The Local Government Commission has been on a pre-determined path toward amalgamation all the way through - the government wanted to test their bigger-is-better theory in some area," he said.

Mr Dalton said private opinion polls showed as many as nine out of every 10 people in parts of Hawke's Bay were against merging its authorities.

"It's just an absolute shame for Hawke's Bay that we're now going to go through another four to six months of divisive wrangling when we should be all having our shoulders to the wheel and doing what's good for Hawke's Bay," Mr Dalton said.

He wanted the issue to be voted on by the public.

The Local Government Commission said the merger will go through in elections next year unless there was an area-wide vote.

This could be triggered by 10 percent of an affected area petitioning for it, and opponents said they had already started.

A Better Hawke's Bay chair Rebecca Turner also wanted the issue to be gauged in a vote and said the public did want amalgamation.

"We're thrilled. It's the right decision.

"It means we can stop the duplication and the in-fighting and the waste of our ratepayer funds and grow a region that is only 150,000 people with five councils, and five of everything and it's about time and it's great," she said.

President of Local Government New Zealand and Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said having five separate councils was stalling the region's progress.

"It's time to sort of grow up and work as a region in the interests of everybody from Wairoa to Central Hawke's Bay, because actually we're drifting behind in many of the statistics that we measure ourselves economically and socially.

"So we have to be competitive and I don't think you can be competitive with five separate councils."

However, the Public Service Association's Hawke's Bay organiser Willie Cochrane said it had more than 150 members working for the councils and there were are worries about the future of their jobs.

"We have some concerns that any reorganisation must maintain and and improve the terms and conditions for union members, we have some deep concerns around that because quite often it ends in downsizing of staff."

Mr Cochrane said staff also wanted an assurance any amalgamation would not cause services to deteriorate.

Work toward a new Wellington plan

Further south, a merging of the Wellington region's nine councils is officially off and the Local Government Commission will now work toward other options.

Kapiti mayor Ross Church said it was the sensible decision.

"We (councils) are working very well generally together, not perfectly, but we work well together so we didn't need the big fix that was their first proposal.

"Seventy or 80 or 90 percent depending on which poll you looked at didn't want their proposal and wanted something much less draconian and much less authoritative and so it was never going to fly," he said.

Mr Church was welcoming some more time which he said would let heads cool, and lead to better consultation.

But for others who said there was appetite for change, there was some disappointment.

Property Council's Wellington branch president Mike Cole said too many councils were pulling in different directions and an opportunity had been missed.

"Wellington needs to get a little bit more coherent in its approach to some of these things, to do something to combat the growth of Auckland and what's happening in Christchurch.

"We are definitely getting left behind with a lot of issues," he said.

Chambers of Commerce in Hutt Valley, Kapiti, Porirua, Wairarapa and Wellington said they were also disappointed.

However, Steph Gundersen-Reid, from Wairarapa's Chamber of Commerce, welcomed what she said was a cautious approach from officials with the decision to work toward something else.

"We've always just wanted what's best for the Wairarapa ratepayers and the Wellington ratepayers.

"So we see this as a chance to actually continue the discussion and come up with hopefully some proposals that look at how we can take the region further together in a positive direction," she said.

The Local Government Commission also scrapped plans for council mergers in Northland.