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Strengthening the Wellington region – a progress update

Date: 29 Jul 2016

The Local Government Commission today reports that good progress has been made on its work with councils and communities to strengthen  local government in the Wellington region, following the decision in June 2015 not to proceed with a proposal for a unitary council for the region.

Commission Chair Sir Wira Gardiner said that all parties had worked hard together to achieve real progress for the people of the Wellington region, and this progress was summarised in two reports, Strengthening the Wellington Region, Public Update, July 2016  and Wairarapa Local Government Arrangements, Summary of Community Feedback, July 2016, released today.

“Working constructively alongside the Mayoral Forum and the councils we were able to identify several work streams that could potentially make a difference to individual communities and to the region as a whole. We have been able to make significant progress on each of them,’’ Sir Wira said.

“In particular, we have worked closely with Wairarapa people and councils on their local government arrangements, worked up options with public input and engaged extensively on these.’’

The public engagement programme undertaken in the Wairarapa by the Commission in June and early July demonstrates the Commission’s approach of putting communities at the centre of their own local government arrangements. Broadly, it showed that people want more effective council arrangements and they also want to remain part of the Wellington region.

Specific community feedback also showed that among several options for council change, the front-runner was a single district council – combining the three districts together.

“In response to this community feedback, the Commission will work with the councils on the detail of this option, along with further consideration of a formal relationship between a prospective Wairarapa District Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council,’’  Sir Wira said.

“Any resulting proposal will be subject to further public consultation.’’

Sir Wira added that technical reports on transport, water, economic development and spatial planning in the Wellington region had been completed. Progress on each is summarised below:

Transport:  the Commission has worked with councils to develop possible options for change to address alignment and capacity issues in the current system. These options are now subject to an Indicative Business Case analysis, scheduled for completion by October 2016. With councils, the Commission will then look to set out the process and timeframe for identifying a preferred option, including public consultation.

Water: the Wellington Water model has made good gains for ratepayers. It could provide even better value if councils collaborate further and support Wellington Water to deliver 3-5 year work programmes, rather than annual ones. However, Wellington Water should be given more time to develop and mature before major changes are considered. The Commission will be monitoring the councils’ response to the water report and remains open to considering changes to water services in any draft proposal in 2017.

Spatial planning: Wellington councils have differing views on the priority of spatial planning for the region but the majority agreed to an analysis of the region’s 23 growth-related plans to gauge gaps, overlaps and inefficiencies. A focused gap analysis will provide the Commission with further evidence before it decides on whether spatial planning should be a feature of local government arrangements in the region in future.

Economic development: more time is required for the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency to bed in – councils should consider a review by late 2017 if issues remain.

Sir Wira congratulated the Mayors, councillors, council officers and members of the community who had participated in the Commission-led work streams and public engagement programmes to date.

“If the spirit of cooperation, collaboration and vision demonstrated by the region’s leaders over the last year can be maintained, Wellington will be able to show the rest of the country how effective change can be achieved.’’

He also wanted to thank all those people who had contributed to the public engagement and stakeholder workshops, particularly in the Wairarapa.

“Your views and what you want for your communities are essential in guiding the Commission’s work,’’ Sir Wira said.

Further information

Reports and resources

Questions and answers

The following reports and resources can be found at here:

Local Government Commission

Strengthening the Wellington region, Progress Update, July 2016

Wairarapa Local Government Arrangements, Summary of Community Feedback, July 2016

Consultants’ reports:

Wellington Regional Transport: Options for Change – Castalia Strategic Advisors

Analysis of Three Waters in the Wellington Region – Mott MacDonald

Local Government Economic Development Arrangements in the Wellington Region – MartinJenkins

Spatial Planning: Opportunities and Options for Metropolitan Wellington – Boffa Miskell

Wairarapa Telephone Survey report – UMR

Questions and Answers

Why is the Commission still looking at Wellington?

Two applications were made to the Commission for changes to the structure of local government in the Wellington region and these applications are still “live’’.  These were made by the three Wairarapa District Councils (in May 2013) and Greater Wellington Regional Council (in June 2013).

Didn’t that process end when the “super city” as dropped?

No. In June 2015 the Commission decided not to proceed with the specific proposal for a single unitary authority across the whole region, but it did not abandon the process as a whole.  Even though public submissions were against the specific proposal for a single region-wide council, many submissions still suggested some change was desirable.

So where does the process sit at the moment?

After deciding not to move forward with its original draft proposal the Commission decided to see whether a new draft proposal could be identified that was likely to attract sufficient community support.  Rather than simply defaulting to a “next best” position based on the earlier work, the Commission decided that a new and different approach was required.  Since June last year the Commission has worked collaboratively with the councils of the region to identify agreed challenges and options for addressing these challenges in a constructive and collaborative way.

The update describes five focus areas; how were these chosen?

In addition to community feedback and submissions from earlier work, the Commission worked with the Wellington Mayoral Forum and council chief executives to identify work streams.

Wairarapa local government arrangements appear to be further advanced than some other issues?

This is correct. The Commission found that with the assistance of the four affected councils in the Wairarapa (the three district councils and the regional council) it has been possible to identify and advance the consideration of options for the Wairarapa. There has already been extensive public consultation on these, whereas with the other areas of interest the Commission’s work to date has been largely with councils.

How confident is the Commission that there is support in the Wairarapa for a combined District Council?

This reflects both the feedback from face to face consultations in the Wairarapa, the views expressed in questionnaire responses, and the results of the public opinion research by UMR.

Is a combined District Council for the Wairarapa a foregone conclusion?

No. The Commission now has further work to do with independent experts and councils on the detail of any such arrangement before initiating a possible draft reorganisation proposal.  Any such proposal would be subject to further public consultation. If the Commission decides to issue a final proposal for a combined Wairarapa Council, a poll may be demanded by 10 per cent of the affected electors enrolled in any affected district.

What has the consultation in the Wairarapa consisted of?

During June and early July 2016, the Commission conducted public meetings in the main Wairarapa centres, set up drop-in centres, and canvassed the public through radio and newspaper advertisements and newspaper editorials. It sought feedback through a questionnaire and received about 1500 responses. It also commissioned a UMR telephone survey of 500 Wairarapa residents (230 residents in Masterton and 135 in each of Carterton and South Wairarapa).

If a formal proposal is issued for a combined Wairarapa council, and this is supported by the community, how long would it take to be in place?

It is likely that a new council would be elected in late 2018. These councillors would have an initial four-year term to bring elections in line with the next three-yearly election cycle in 2022.

What happens next?

Early next year the Commission intends making a decision on whether to release a new draft proposal for the Wellington region. If a new draft proposal is issued there would be a further round of public consultation. The next step after that would be for the Commission to issue a final proposal.