Strong governance at both regional and local levels needs to be a feature of good local government in the Waikato region over the next 20 to 30 years, says a Waikato Regional Council submission.
In its submission to the Select Committee on the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill, the council says it supports the intent of the Government’s reform agenda to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government, but would like to see a number of changes to the draft legislation around the purpose of local government, reorganisation of local authorities and regulation of fiscal responsibility.
The council says the reforms must enable local government to respond to pressures and changing conditions communities are likely to face into the future, such as:
- increased demand and competition for natural resources in the Waikato, including fresh water, high class soil, energy resources and perhaps coastal space and minerals
- Waikato’s population rising by as much as 139,000, with the majority of the growth in the Hamilton sub-region, while the numbers living in rural areas decline
- an increasing aging population, with the number of over 65 year olds expected to almost double in the next 20 years
- a constrained funding environment may result, making it increasingly difficult for communities to provide and pay for services and infrastructure, such as roads, water supply and flood hazard infrastructure
- increasing aspirations and economic and constitutional power of Maori, who are playing a greater role in local government as a result of Treaty settlement legislation.
To deal with these issues and to achieve more responsive and effective local government in the Waikato (and other large rural regions), it is important there continues to be a strong regional level of governance along with a local level of governance.
“If these different roles are made more explicit in the Local Government Act, there would be a lot less confusion and conflict between territorial authorities and regional councils and a better community understanding of their respective roles,” the submission says.
The council makes a case for the retention of the existing purpose of local government to promote “the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of communities, in the present and for the future”.
The submission says the Government’s proposed change to the purpose will not achieve the goal of reducing costs or preventing poor governance.
To achieve financial efficiencies, the Government should instead target plan-making processes, service and infrastructure delivery, and strategic management of land use.
The council considers there should still be wide and reasonable scope for councils to respond to a community’s wishes.
To this end, the council does not support proposals to regulate financial matters and the issue of capping rates to population growth and the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The council says it would be severely constrained if it were not able to respond to local demand for services that its communities are happy to fund, such as flood protection and drainage works. Other examples of cost increases that are not related to population growth or CPI include civil defence and emergency management.
The council says all proposals for council reorganisation need to provide for catchment-based flooding and water management issues.
The draft legislation describes how a poll on reorganisation proposals can be demanded by a petition of electors. The council supports the need to ensure proposals have a reasonable level of public support and wants to see the poll considered alongside any other available evidence of community support, such as opinion polls of relevant communities.
Submissions on the bill closed yesterday.