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Hide Says He's Comfortable With Auckland Council Changes

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Rodney Hide
Rodney Hide

Auckland, Sept 4 NZPA - Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says he's comfortable with proposed changes to the new Auckland super council.

A special parliamentary committee today suggested greater powers than in the initial Government proposal for the mayor and the 20 to 30 local boards, both of which will get their own budgets.

It also proposed the northern and southern edges of the current Auckland region be lopped off, though current regional assets in these areas such as regional parks and the Hunua Dam would still be owned by the new Auckland Council.

It recommended all councillors should be elected by wards rather than having some elected at large, though it did say some could be elected from multi-member wards rather than one-member wards.

Councillors will be elected by the first past the post (FPP) system rather than single transferable vote, as some submitters wanted.

Mr Hide said the committee had enhanced the Government's proposals in many ways.

He said members had listened to Aucklanders by giving the local boards more power and proposing no councillors elected at large.

"That wasn't my view or the Government's view at the start," he said.

"They have reflected the people of Auckland's views and there's no doubt the Government will take that on board as that's what Aucklanders want."

Mr Hide said the Government was likely to support the committee's recommendations.

Select committee chairman John Carter said the decision to go with FPP was because there would be enough changes for Aucklanders to deal with given there was a mayor, councillors, local board and health board members to vote for.

"To bring a new voting system in on that as well we felt would complicate the system."

He said the local boards would be able to propose targeted rates in local areas and by-laws, as well as make decisions about prioritising spending and services.

"It was very important that while we addressed the issue of putting local back into local government ... that we didn't conflict with the issue of making sure that the unitary authority had the regional authority to do what it needed to do."

Mr Carter said proposals on board boundaries will be made by the Local Government Commission. The first proposals are likely to be ready by November.

He said the mayor was given wide powers and a dedicated budget to lead the body so non-elected officers wouldn't have too much power.

"The submissions that we got from many people were that they were concerned about the authority and the strength that the chief executive would have."

Manukau Mayor Len Brown, who this week announced his candidacy for Auckland Mayor, said he was pleased local boards had been given more power, though he thought that 20-30 would be too many.

"It will be difficult for a board to make a decision which does not impact on a neighbouring community. This means, in fact, that less decisions are likely to be made at the local level."

He also supported all councillors being elected from wards, though he said the suggestion that some come from multi-member wards was "at large (councillors) in drag".

Mr Brown also thought the suggestion that the current northern and southern parts of the region be lopped off but that some parks and assets remain in the council's hands was strange.

"What are we doing suggesting owning assets and land outside our boundaries? We might as well start buying up Wellington and Fiordland. I just can't understand it."

Auckland City Mayor John Banks, who has also put his hand up as a potential super city mayor, said there was still a lot of work to do in bolting down what the responsibilities of the local boards would be.

He said some of this may not be finished by the time the first council is elected next year and he imagined much of the change would be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Rodney District Mayor Penny Webster said her district would be split in half under this proposal, which was some way from the suggestion of a Rodney unitary authority which residents wanted.

"If it was further north the split had been made I could have understood that, but this split doesn't make any sense at all, and this is not what the people asked for."

Labour said it agreed with the concept of one council, one mayor, one plan, but it believed there should be separate Maori seats, more councillors, fewer local boards and a single transferable vote system.

The Greens opposed the overall concept of a single city and was concerned that the local boards did not have enough powers.

The Maori Party was totally opposed to the bill as it failed to provide for Maori representation.

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