The Local Government Commission has proposed a new model for local government in Northland and is welcoming submissions. The draft proposal, released on 12 November, combines the functions of the three district councils and the regional council into one unitary authority.

The motion for change was triggered by the Far North District Council's application to become a unitary authority; however, the draft proposal is part of the Government's wider move towards local government amalgamations nationwide. The proposed change follows the Auckland local government's transformation to a unitary authority in 2010. After considering a range of options, a 'whole of Northland' approach was chosen in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Local Government Act 2004.

The "Northland Council" would comprise of:

  • A mayor elected by all Northland voters;
  • Seven wards throughout the larger region;
  • Nine councillors elected from the seven wards;
  • A second tier of seven community boards electing a total of 42 members; and
  • A Maori Board as a standing committee of the Council.

The proposed new structure aims to improve democratic decision-making at both a regional level and a smaller community level. The unitary authority would help address 'big picture' issues that affect Northland as a whole, while the second tier of Community Boards would empower diverse communities to make decisions on matters that directly affect them. The ability for Northland to 'speak with one voice' is intended to provide the region with more effective advocacy when dealing with local government, public sector agencies and commercial interests.

An improvement in regional leadership is expected to enable sustainable economic development and increase productivity through simplified and streamlined planning processes. To achieve this, the proposal integrates the regional policy statement, regional plans, and the three district plans to avoid duplication and inconsistency. The restructured planning framework is expected to make it easier and faster for businesses and individuals to get council approvals and consents, essentially creating a 'one stop shop' authority. Improved planning processes are aimed at helping progress necessary infrastructural projects, in particular roading, drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services.

A similar draft proposal for the reorganisation of local government in Hawke's Bay was released in November, aimed to cope with population movements and changing patterns of economic growth. However, there has been widespread hostility against a merged council, including opposition from three out of four of the region's mayors. They have concerns with the low number of councillors proposed, and the potential for loss of autonomy among local communities.

The Local Government Commission is seeking feedback on the draft proposal for the Northland reorganisation, and submissions are due by 14 February 2014.  Following receipt of submissions, hearings may be held, to consider the submissions and any supporting evidence.