A Greater Wellington Council incorporating Porirua, the Kapiti Coast, the Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa has been recommended by the Local Government Commission.

The “draft decision” is open for public feedback until 2 March, after which public hearings will be held before the Commission makes its final recommendation.

The proposal in detail

A new unitary authority would replace the existing nine councils: Masterton, Carterton, South Wairarapa, Upper Hutt,  Hutt City, Wellington, Porirua, Kapiti Coast and the Wellington Regional Council.

It would be a two-tier structure with:

  • a governing body comprising a Mayor elected by the ratepayers of Greater Wellington and 21 councillors representing eight wards, and
  • 60 members of local boards, one for each ward – Wairarapa, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Kapiti Coast, Porirua-Tawa, Ohariu, Lambton and Rongotai.  These would have powers and budgets for local parks and reserves, recreational, community and cultural facilities, decisions about public places such as town centres and main streets, local transport, waste and recycling and local economic development initiatives.

An integrated rating system would come into force on 1 July 2019.  Current rating systems would remain in place until then.  Rates would be based on capital value, not land value.  There would be no ring-fencing of debt or assets.

Māori participation in decision-making would be provided via a Māori Board and a Natural Resources Management Committee.  We note that there are lessons to be learned here from the Auckland experience after Willie Jackson successfully sued the selection body responsible for appointments to the Independent Māori Statutory Board.

Timeline from here

If the draft proposal proceeds, the first elections for the new council could be held in October 2016.  However, once the Commission makes its final recommendation, opponents will have 60 days to seek a referendum – an outcome which seems almost certain given the strong reactions to the Commission’s report. 

To trigger a referendum will require the support of at least 10% of electors in any one of the affected districts.  The smallest area is in the Tararua where 11 rateable properties at the north-east tip would be transferred into the Greater Wellington Council region.  Any ensuing poll must be supported by more than 50% of valid votes cast, otherwise the amalgamation will not proceed.

Wellington vs Auckland

The Commission considers that the case for change is not as compelling in Wellington as it was in Auckland as Wellington does not have Auckland’s growth pressures or the same level of dysfunction between current councils.

One of the “lessons” the Commission has applied from Auckland is to give the local boards more power than they have in Auckland in respect of non-regulatory functions – e.g. outside the Resource Management Act.  For example, it is proposed that they be able to influence decisions in regards to local transport.  In Auckland this is controlled centrally by Auckland Transport.