10 June 2015
The Local Government Commissions announcement that it would move to strengthen local government in the Hawkes Bay at the same time as backing down on recommendations for Wellington and Northland demonstrates the need for a first principles rethink of what local government does, why and how, something a Royal Commission is best placed to investigate and which must include stalled discussions on the role of the Resource Management Act and other planning laws, says Stephen Selwood CEO of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development.
The Commissions decisions are set to entrench different governance structures, roles and activities in different regions with net costs to New Zealand as a whole.
The Local Government Commission was at risk of having its decisions reversed by local referenda driven by local politicians. Had the Commission been in a position to recommend strengthened governance for Wellington and Northland, New Zealand could have begun the transition to a consistent national and regional spatial planning and implementation framework supported by local boards at the grass roots level.
This would be consistent with international best practice and would help align central and local government on major planning and investment decision making.
It would also facilitate private activity and investment while enhancing community participation and decision making through local boards.
It would have delivered a superior outcome for NZ Inc. Instead, much more narrow interests have been allowed to prevail.
The result is an unfolding piecemeal governance scenario with large regional councils like Auckland providing clear direction and a single voice on major issues, whilst small councils like Kaipara next door struggle to sustain the expertise necessary to provide modern public services.
A Royal Commission is now required into local government in New Zealand.
Only a Royal Commission can access the resources and maintains the mana necessary to complete a full first principles review of local government across New Zealand.
Such a review would align well with another stalled reform process, that of the Resource Management Act 1991.
Currently, we have councils making plans under the Local Government Act, large aspects of which are actually implemented under the RMA and transport Act. We have rules under the RMA which impede the plans of councils developed under the LGA and proposals under the RMA which are not funded because council spending falls under the jurisdiction of the LGA.
The whole thing is a complete mess.
Until we achieve alignment over what it is we want local government to deliver and how, it will be very difficult for the Local Government Commission to make sound recommendations which mobilise the support of communities.
That process cannot happen without the LGA, RMA and Land Transport Management Act being part of the same discussion, Selwood says.