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Aucklanders in need of well-developed models

by 6 Apr 2008Regional governance0 comments

From Auckland Regional Council Website

Too Late: If you were planning to escape local body reform by crossing the Tasman, the Queensland Government has just slashed the number of councils in the state from 157 to 73. Interestingly, the City of Brisbane was not part of the reforms. Queensland Government

It seems difficult to credit it now.

When the editor’s family moved to Waiwera, in 1959, the local council offices were in Greys Avenue, Auckland. Coming from Te Kūiti, which had its own council offices, this seemed bizarre. But much that is taken for granted about local government was different in those days—subdivision applications were considered not by the local council, but by the Lands and Surveys Department. And the regional council was, a youthful, Auckland Regional Planning Authority.

A decade later, there was much discussion about what to do with the rural part of the Waitematā County, which extended from to the northern shores of the harbour of that name, to the Waiwera River. It was generally agreed that the urban part of Waitematā County overwhelmed the rural interests, with their meagre representation. So, in 1972, the Local Government Commission stipulated that 29 cities, boroughs and counties be reduced to four cities, three counties and one borough—Hibiscus Coast.

Given this cobbling together of rural remnants, it is small wonder that a survey commissioned by Mayor John Law, on first taking office, revealed that few of the district’s inhabitants identified strongly with Rodney—it could be further extrapolated that the people of the area are not firmly wedded to the current boundaries.

Once again, the option of amalgamating the urban core of the region, and hiving off the rural balance into neighbouring rural districts, is being considered. This would cause cascading boundary changes to avoid a scenario might see the Kaipara District extend from Waiwera to Waipuoa, a distance of about 150‍ ‍kilometres by road. The residents of Pūhoi, Mahurangi and Matakana are unlikely to be thrilled with the prospect of their council being based in Dargaville.

The governance of the region is important to the Mahurangi, the first natural harbour north of Tamaki-makau-rau. The task of preparing submissions to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, on how the Mahurangi’s best interests might be served, was never going to be easy. While generally it will hold that what is good for the region will be good for the Mahurangi, the broader the submission is, the greater will be the potential for causing offence to members with strong views about, for example, a single Auckland council. But the task is further complicated by the enormous void in the royal commission’s road map. Between the close off date for submissions, 22 April, and the reporting date to the government, 1 December, there is no indication as to whether the commission will present some well-developed models of the different options for comment.

The Mahurangi Magazine has been told by the commission that, although it will be consulting intensively all the way through to 1 December, it is not planned to put up more-developed models, and to invite submissions on them. This would be perfectly satisfactory if the government was to indicate there will be referendum or other opportunity for the people of the region to indicate their support for one or other of the options short-listed by the commission on 1 December. Suffice to say, it is advisable to treat the current submission period as though it will be the last on this subject.

Regional governance has been extremely generous to the Mahurangi. At a time when the old Rodney County Council was actively encouraging coastal subdivision, the regional authority moved boldly to protect the entrance to the harbour from residential development.

More recently, when studies it had commissioned revealed that an elevated sediment accumulation rate was smothering shellfish in the harbour, the regional council began paying for fencing materials, to keep stock out of streams, and for native plants for establishment in the riparian buffers created. While it is not possible to be categorical, if a regional council had not existed, it is probable that the face of the Mahurangi Harbour would be very different today. And the same probably applies, had the regional council never been more than the environmental protection agency, which Rodney district’s mayor, Penny Webster, now argues is its proper role.

The Mahurangi, and Rodney generally, will always be intensively used by urban Aucklanders.

And be in great demand for residential sites by folk with close ties to the city.

It is difficult to see how the rural and semi-rural outskirts, which are heavily used by many of Auckland’s 1.3 million souls, can sensibly be administered in isolation of the city. Only by abdicating responsibility for local infrastructure, as the Rodney mayor suggests, could the Rodney ratepayers afford to maintain their own separate council.

It is probable the commission will recommend some change to the governance structures of the Auckland region—even the regional council is enthusiastic about change, although clearly not along mayor Webster’s lines. It is also probable that a reduction in the number of councils will be recommended—there are currently eight, including the regional body. But before nailing loyalist colours to the mast, over a fear that amalgamation will result in centralisation and a greater difficulty in accessing council decision makers, a closer look at local decision-making options is called for.

In 1974, locals convinced a special tribunal that Warkworth and Mahurangi peninsula wastewater should be treated in a combined scheme and disposed of outside the harbour. In those days Warkworth had its own town council. Rodney County Council played for time, which allowed Warkworth to go it alone resulting in the effluent discharge just below the town that endures today. Had the water board, effectively the Auckland Regional Council, had more clout in the 1970s…

That is not to say the Warkworth Town Council would have deserved to have been scrapped for one bad decision. But something between that totally autonomous entity and the current liaison group would possibly better serve the needs of Warkworth, and the Mahurangi catchment—regardless of whether it functioned within Rodney District or a greater Auckland council.

It is hoped that, at some point, Aucklanders will be presented some attractive and well-developed models.

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