Magazine article New Zealand Management

Politics: Bottom Up & Uncontrolled?

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Politics: Bottom Up & Uncontrolled?

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

What is local and what is central? The Key Government has rephrased this as what is local is central -- when it gets in the way of economic development.

In 1841 on its second day the Legislative Council debated a bill to regularise local government. A Wellington council had been set up before the Treaty of Waitangi. A bottom-up, uncontrolled local initiative had to be reined in for national colonial rule to work.

It is this bottom-up, uncontrolled nature of local government that irritates the cabinet now.

It thinks councils overspend on projects that are not "core" because councillors misinterpret their mandate from low voter turnouts and/or because wily, unelected chief executives faze councillors.

That lifts rates -- which cuts business profits and so stymies economic development -- and/or gets councils too far into debt, which ministers fear may require a bailout. Actually no law requires that; the law requires a special rate. No councils are insolvent. And much of the rise in rates and debt has gone on government-mandated fixing of the infrastructure deficit from the 1980s and 1990s.

Ministers think councils take far too long on resource consents, too readily listen to opponents of economic development and don't make it easy to build cheap houses.

So there are time limits on resource consent processes. The Environmental Protection Authority consents nationally significant projects (not legally defined) and regional important projects are to get special treatment, too. Ministers are pressing for more land to be zoned residential.

Ministers think too much time goes on plans and consulting on them. They truncated hearings on Auckland's unitary plan and took over the appointment of commissioners to hear appeals. They want, in legislation to come, a single plan for every council and to inject regional priorities into it.

This, some analysts of local government think, will weaken district councils and add to pressure to move to unitary region-based councils, as Auckland now is.

Ministers have spun out the term of the commissioners running the Canterbury Regional Council and dismissed Christchurch City Council bids to regain more of the administration of its city. …

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