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The Reorganisation Process

Introduction

Local government reorganisation means changes to the structure of local authorities. It could be changes to boundaries; the creation of a new council; the union of councils; the abolition of a council; or the transfer of functions and duties from one council to another.

There are six unitary authorities in New Zealand: Auckland, Gisborne, Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman. The Chatham Islands Council is also effectively a unitary authority. Other local authorities work under a two tier framework of regional and district/city councils which have separate regulatory and planning responsibilities and provide different services.

Reorganisation involves taking another look at these structures. Before the Commission makes any recommendation for change, it must be satisfied that a new structure would promote good local government.

Good local government is defined in law. It must enable democratic local decision-making by and on behalf of communities.

It must meet current and future needs for good-quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions. The infrastructure, services and functions must be efficient, effective, and appropriate now and into the future.

Good local government is also expected to produce efficiencies and cost savings. It must contribute to productivity improvements for local authorities, households and businesses. It must lead to simplified planning processes.

The legislation governing reorganisation of local authorities is Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002. It was changed significantly in late 2012. The changes enable any individual or group to apply for reorganisation.

An application is expected to explain what the changes are designed to achieve. It must describe the improvements that would result. It must demonstrate that there is community support for some type of change.

Process - Diagram

Reorganisation Process Diagram

Process - Description

The process for changing local government structures, boundaries and functions involves a number of distinct steps.

After receiving an application the Commission decides whether to assess it or whether to decline it. It may decline an application if:

  • the application is frivolous
  • the application does not contain the required information
  • a substantially similar application has been declined by the Commission and the reasons for declining still apply
  • the intent of the application is contrary to law
  • the Commission is not likely to be able to assess the application in a timely manner
  • it is not in the public interest to assess the application.

The Commission checks the application has all the information required and considers whether there is community support for change. If the Commission is satisfied the application has met requirements it will issue a public notice, advising of the application and calling for alternative applications.

Alternative applications are effectively a counter-proposal. They should explain how the alternative ideas would lead to improvements and what the changes are designed to achieve. They are not an opportunity to lobby for the status quo (existing structures).

After receiving alternative applications, the next stages of the process are:

  • the Commission considers alternative applications alongside the original application and the existing council arrangements (status quo);
  • the Commission consults widely as it identifies reasonably practicable options for the affected area. One of these options must be the status quo;
  • the Commission determines its preferred option. The preferred option must have regard to a local authority’s resources and its communities of interest;
  • if the status quo is not the preferred option, the Commission prepares a draft proposal. It publicly notifies the draft proposal and calls for public submissions;
  • the Commission seek the views of affected local authorities, iwi and a number of public sector agencies. These include the Auditor General; the Ministry for the Environment; the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment; Te Puni Kokiri, and Inland Revenue;
  • the Commission must consider each submission. It may hold hearings and undertake further consultations before deciding whether to proceed;
  • if it proceeds, the Commission prepares a final proposal and publicly notifies it. A period of 60 working days is allowed for responses, for example a petition to require a poll (vote);
  • a petition of 10% or more of affected electors in any one of the affected districts is able to trigger a poll;
  • if more than 50% of valid votes support the proposal, or if no poll is called for, the final proposal will be implemented and the proposed changes will take place. If the proposal attracts support from 50% or fewer of those voting, the reorganisation proposal will lapse.

There are four stages in the reorganisation process where the Commission is required to assess evidence of community support:

  • on receipt of a reorganisation application,
  • while assessing the application,
  • when the Commission is narrowing down its preferred option after receiving alternative applications
  • in making a decision on whether to issue a final reorganisation proposal.