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A Greater Wellington Council proposed for region

Date: 4 December 2014

The most significant reforms of a generation are proposed for councils in the Wellington region, under a draft proposal released by the Local Government Commission. Public submissions are now being sought, with a deadline of 2 March 2015.

A new unitary authority, the Greater Wellington Council, is proposed. It would take over the functions of the existing nine councils: Masterton District Council; Carterton District Council; South Wairarapa District Council; Upper Hutt City Council; Hutt City Council; Wellington City Council; Porirua City Council; Kapiti Coast District Council, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The new council would have a shared decision-making structure. Power would be shared between the governing body (a mayor and 21 councillors) and 60 members of local boards. The mayor would be elected by voters of greater Wellington. Councillors and local board members would be elected from eight defined geographic areas.

The mayor and councillors would be responsible for high-level decisions affecting all of Wellington. The local boards would control council budgets and decisions for local matters in established communities. Local boards would be created for Wairarapa; Upper Hutt; Lower Hutt; Kapiti Coast; Porirua-Tawa; Ohariu; Lambton; and Rongotai.

Commission chair Basil Morrison said the shared decision-making model of a unitary authority with local boards was the best of several options considered by the Commission.

“Local boards ensure the ‘local’ is preserved in local government,” Mr Morrison said. “They are an integral component of the council structure. Board members would be elected to speak for residents from defined areas and in turn would govern those areas with their own budgets and certain powers.”

“We found there were many aspects of local government which had worked well till now. But we also recognised there are limitations, inadequacies and challenges. Perhaps most importantly, strong economic and cultural factors inter-connect the region and give it a common future goal. There is a case for change. We have proposed a structure of local government to best meet the needs of the people of the entire region over the next 30 years,” Mr Morrison said.

“This proposal offers the greatest opportunity to address the significant future issues facing the region. Wellington must address challenges of investment in infrastructure, changing demographics, the need for economic development, and management of the impact of natural hazards and climate change. These issues are regional in scale and require regional responses,” Mr Morrison said.

Some of the key points of the draft proposal include:

  • The elected members of Greater Wellington Council would be: one mayor, 21 councillors and 60 local board members. Wellington is currently governed by nine councils with eight mayors and one regional chair, 95 other councillors, 57 community board members, and nine chief executives. It has a population of fewer than 500,000 people.
  • The administrative headquarters of Greater Wellington Council would be in Wellington City. Council services would also be provided at area offices in Porirua, Paraparaumu, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and Masterton. Smaller service centres would be in Waikanae, Otaki, Martinborough, Greytown, Featherston and Carterton.
  • Local boards would have responsibility for decisions about local council functions unless there is a good reason for those decisions to be made at a regional level.
  • Local boards would have powers and budgets for local parks and reserves; recreational and community facilities; arts and cultural facilities and libraries; community and cultural events; decisions about public spaces such as town centres and main streets; community grants; local transport, waste and recycling facilities; and local economic development initiatives.
  • Decisions about how to handle the transition to a single rating system would be left to the new council. An integrated rating system would come into force on 1 July 2019 and current rating systems remain in place till then. The council would have to moderate the impact of any changes for individual property owners. Rates would be based on capital value not land value.
  • Two formal structures would ensure Maori participation in decision making - a Maori Board and a Natural Resources Management Committee. The two bodies would have a joint membership of council and iwi representatives. They would advise council on environmental and resource management issues, regional planning, and treaty settlement matters.
  • A proposal for a stand-alone Wairarapa council has failed to meet required tests, as the Commission was not satisfied it would have the resources to effectively carry out all local government functions in the future.
  • The first elections for the new council could occur in October 2016 if the draft proposal proceeds through all its next steps, which could include a public poll.
  • Public submissions on the proposal close on 2 March 2015. 

The applications for reorganisation of Wellington councils were made by Masterton District Council, Carterton District Council, South Wairarapa District Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council, in 2013.