Fate of final proposal in Wairarapa's hands

19 Jul 2017

Local Government Commission Chair Sir Wira Gardiner says the fate of a final proposal released today - for a combined Wairarapa District Council - lies in the hands of the Wairarapa public.

“The Commission is confident that the final proposal it has released today will have many advantages for the Wairarapa in capturing opportunities now and meeting the challenges of the future,’’ Sir Wira said. “There is strong support across the Wairarapa for the proposal.

“Whether it goes ahead or not is now up to the Wairarapa, which can call for a poll. A simple majority will determine the outcome.’’

Under the proposal the three existing Wairarapa councils – South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton District Councils – would be combined into one medium-sized local authority, called the Wairarapa District Council. Regional council functions in the district would continue to be carried out by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Sir Wira said that he and his fellow commissioners had reached their decision after careful deliberation.

“The Commission has listened to local government leaders, councillors, iwi, business leaders, the rural sector, community leaders and residents from all walks of life throughout the Wairarapa,’’ he said.  “We have also considered expert evidence, and conducted independent surveys to seek a range of views from across the district.’’

Sir Wira said that the Commission had been assisted in reaching its decision by all the people who had engaged in the reorganisation process over the past two years. This included those who had attended public meetings, drop-in centres or information stands, others who had made written submissions or spoken at a hearing, or simply read and commented on the Commission’s materials.

“We wish to thank all the members of the Wairarapa community who have helped us get to this point. We feel privileged to have heard strong and considered views from across the spectrum.

“It is obvious to us that many in the Wairarapa care passionately about local governance, and I’d like to pay particular tribute to those whose robust and thoughtfully composed opposing submissions challenged us to consider the evidence carefully.

“We have done so and are convinced the final proposal will deliver better local government for the Wairarapa including strong democratic local decision-making, cost-effective infrastructure and efficient services. We are happy now to hand it over the Wairarapa people – who we fully expect will want to have the final say by requesting a poll.

“We encourage the community to exercise its democratic rights in this respect. This is your chance to shape the future of your district and your community.’’

What is proposed – in brief

  • A new council is proposed, called Wairarapa District Council. It would replace the existing three district councils: South Wairarapa District Council, Carterton District Council and Masterton District Council.
  • The new council would have a mayor and 12 councillors. The mayor would be elected by voters across the Wairarapa district and councillors would be elected by voters in seven wards, including two rural wards.
  • There would be five community boards: Featherston, Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton. Each board would have four or five elected community board members representing the respective wards. 
  • For at least its first term, the new council would be required to have a rural standing committee and a Māori standing committee as a means of promoting effective council representation for rural communities, and marae, hapū and iwi respectively.
  • The new Wairarapa District Council would be a territorial authority. The Wairarapa would remain part of the Wellington region with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) continuing its current roles and responsibilities. There would be a new Wairarapa Committee of the GWRC to strengthen Wairarapa input into regional council issues affecting the district.
  • For at least five years, the new council would be required to maintain area offices in Martinborough, Carterton and Masterton. Staff would continue to be located in the area offices to ensure people can access council services across the Wairarapa. The address for service (“principal office’’), for the new council would be Masterton.
  • If electors request a poll (see guidelines below) and if a simple majority supports the proposal, the new Wairarapa Council could be elected in late 2018, at the earliest, and would serve an initial four-year term.

Copies of the final proposal are available and will be available for viewing at council offices and libraries. Copies are also available on request to the Local Government Commission at info@lgc.govt.nz; or by phoning 04 460 2228.

What has changed between the draft and final proposal

The Commission has listened to a wide range of community views over the past two years and given consideration to the ideas and information presented. In particular, following the release of the draft proposal and the submissions process, the Commission has made the following adjustments to the proposal:

    • a requirement on the new council to consider a more comprehensive approach to its relationship with iwi, hapū and Māori
    • clarifying recommended delegations in the draft community board terms of reference
    • minor changes to the terms of reference for Greater Wellington Regional Council Wairarapa Committee
    • reduced powers/scope of work for the transition body
    • explicit expectation for the transition body to consult with interested parties and the community on terms of reference for community boards, the Māori standing committee, and the rural standing committee
    • iwi representation on the transition body
    • union/worker advisor on the implementation team.

The process so far

May 2013:

  • Application for unitary council for the Wairarapa from Wairarapa councils

June 2013:

  •  Application for unitary council for the Wellington Region (including the Wairarapa) from the Greater Wellington Regional Council

December 2014:

  • Commission publishes draft proposal for unitary council for the Wellington region including Wairarapa

June 2015:

  • Following submissions and hearings, the Commission decides not to proceed with proposal, but to return to communities to discuss other options for change

February 2016:

  • Public engagement – Commission holds public meetings to develop six options for local government change in the Wairarapa

June 2016:

  • Wairarapa councils, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Commission obtain an independent assessment of the six options

June - July 2016:

  • Public engagement – drop-in sessions, public meetings and surveys to gauge public views on the six options

July 2016:

  • Publication of summary of public feedback – a majority of people prefer a combined Wairarapa District Council

August 2016 - March 2017:

  • Further work on detail of possible combined Wairarapa District Council

15 March 2017:

  • Commission releases draft proposal and calls for submissions

3 May 2017:

  • Submissions close

4 - 10 May 2017:

  • UMR conducts survey of Wairarapa public

23 May - 6 June:

  • The Commission conducts submissions hearings

19 July:  

  • The Commission issues a final proposal for a Wairarapa District Council

What happens next

November 2017 - February 2018: 

  • If a poll is sought, the poll would be held about three months after the validation of a poll petition

Early 2018, at the earliest:

  • If a poll endorses the final proposal (or a poll is not called for), a transition body would be formed. This would include representatives of the three current Wairarapa councils

October 2018-October 2019:

  • Election of the new council. If the new council were elected in October 2018, it would have an initial four-year term to bring it back into line with the three-yearly election cycle

October 2022:

  • Council election as part of the usual three-yearly election cycle

Public poll on a final proposal

Electors of the affected districts can now call for a poll on the proposal. This is done by presenting the Commission with a valid petition signed by 10 per cent or more of the electors from one of South Wairarapa, Carterton or Masterton districts by 11 October 2017. The petition must be in the prescribed form and each person who signs a petition must state, against his or her signature, their name and address in sufficient detail to enable the person to be identified as an elector.

If 50 per cent or more of poll voters from across the Wairarapa oppose the proposal, it will not go ahead and there is no further action. If more than 50 per cent support the proposal, or if there isn’t a valid request for a poll, the proposal goes ahead.

The poll would be a postal vote conducted in the same manner as the local government elections. Voting papers are sent out by an electoral officer and people have about three weeks to return them.

The timing of the poll depends on when a petition is received and validated. This could be November/December 2017 at the earliest or mid February 2018 at the latest.

Questions and Answers: final proposal for Wairarapa District Council

Q: Why is this happening?

A:  The application by the three Wairarapa district councils for a Wairarapa unitary council (performing the roles of both the regional council and the district councils) in May 2013 triggered a formal reorganisation process. It was quickly followed by an application for a unitary council for the entire Wellington region from the Greater Wellington Regional Council. Because the two applications overlapped, the Commission considered them as one reorganisation process.

Q: What happened to those applications?

A: In June 2015, after consultation on a region-wide unitary council, the Commission decided not to proceed with the ‘super-city’ proposal. Instead it decided to return to the community to consider other proposals for change. This proposal for a Wairarapa District Council is a result of nearly two years of community engagement and consultation, supported by expert analysis.

Q: What happens in the rest of the Wellington region?

A: The release of a draft proposal for the Wairarapa in March 2017 was the end of the formal reorganisation process for the rest of the Wellington region. The Commission is working on a concluding report of recommendations for the region’s councils to consider on some of the issues that led to the ‘super city’ proposal, including the transport and spatial planning. This report is due out in late 2017.

Q: Has there been local input into the proposal?

A: The Commission worked closely with Wairarapa local government leaders and the community in developing the options for local government, tested them with data agreed by councils, and conducted public surveys to identify the option most preferred. A draft proposal emerged from that consultative process. The Commission sought and considered submissions on the draft proposal and commissioned a further independent opinion survey of the Wairarapa before issuing the final proposal.

Q: How can people have a further voice?

A: By signing a petition for a poll and then voting in it.

Q: How is a poll triggered?

A: If 10 per cent of the eligible electors in any one of the affected districts (South Wairarapa, Carterton or Masterton districts) request it, a poll of all electors in the Wairarapa will result. If more than 50 per cent of the poll voters vote for it, the proposal will proceed. Otherwise the process comes to an end and the status quo remains.


Q: What is the process for electing a new combined council?

A:  A transition body comprising a transition board, an interim chief executive and an implementation team would oversee transition arrangements for the formation of the new combined council. The first election of the new combined council would take place between October 2018 and October 2019. If the new council were elected in 2018 it would sit for an initial four-year term before returning to the usual three-yearly election cycle.

Q: Would there be job losses?

A: The structure and staffing levels of the Wairarapa District Council would be determined by the new council. There would likely be some senior management redundancies reflecting the fact there would be one council instead of three.

Q: What would the rating system for the new council be?

A: The Commission’s proposal requires that the current rating arrangements would remain in place until the new council and the community have had the opportunity to consider any changes. If there are any changes due to merging the three councils together, then these changes are capped at 5 per cent in any one year until at least June 2024.

Q: How would the new council take account of different council debt and asset levels?

A: Targeted rates for wastewater services would be ring-fenced so that ratepayers would continue to pay for only for the scheme to which they are connected until at least June 2024. If any additional debt commitments were made before the new council was formed the Commission would consider similar arrangements.

Q: Where would the new council’s head office be?

A: The Commission has not determined whether there should be a head office. The Commission considers that the new council is best placed to make decisions about where staff are located and where council meetings are held. The Commission has decided that the address for service for the new council is Masterton, but this does not have to be where most staff are located or where council meetings are held.

Q: What would be the advantages of combining the councils?

A: The full list of advantages and disadvantages are set out in the Commission’s final proposal. These include: less red tape for Wairarapa businesses, sport, arts and community groups; better council decision-making and advocacy for the Wairarapa as a whole; a council with better financial resilience, more effective delivery of infrastructure, more scope for specialist staff and modest financial savings.

Q: Are there some disadvantages?

A: The full list of advantages and disadvantages are set out in the Commission’s final proposal. These include: the change process could be unsettling for some council staff; there would be fewer councillors than at present, which could mean councillors are less visible and less accessible; reduced representation on regional committees and forums; and the transition costs would slightly outweigh the savings for the first two years.

Q: Could the new mayor be from anywhere in Wairarapa?

A: Yes

Q: What would the community boards do?

A: The final terms of reference for the community boards are to be recommended to the Commission by the transition body in consultation with the community, but in essence their role is the provide leadership in empowering local communities to determine local issues associated with their areas. The boards would not be responsible for infrastructure or regulation. These responsibilities would be managed by the district council.

Q: Can there be changes to local government arrangements in the Wairarapa in the future?

A: If the proposal is successful at a poll and goes ahead, then a prohibition on reorganisation applications for the Wairarapa district would come into force until 31 October 2024. This period is to give the new council a chance to bed in. After 2024, the normal legislative provisions for changing local government arrangements apply.

Q: Why don’t the Maungaraki and Te Kauru wards have community boards?

A: Because of the size and rural nature of these wards the Commission determined that their interests would be better served through a rural standing committee of the new council.

Q: Why is the Maungaraki ward so large?

A: The Local Electoral Act requires that wards within a territorial authority are devised so that their populations are within plus or minus 10 per cent of the average population per councillor. This requirement, and communities of interest considerations, has dictated the size of the Maungaraki ward.

Q: Could the new council change this?

A: Yes, the new council could change this through the representation review process. The first opportunity to do this would be in 2022.

Q: Will the new Wairarapa District Council be a “super council’’?

A: No. By population the Wairarapa District Council will be a middle-sized council of a similar scale to Timaru, Marlborough, Whanganui, and Upper Hutt. With a land area of 5936 square kilometres, the new district would be similar in size to Hastings, Taupō and Clutha.

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