BOP Regional Councillor
This year will be a full-on for local government as the new legislation making amalgamations easier takes effect, and electioneering gets underway for Council elections in October.
Already there are fears being raised in Rotorua that the Bay of Plenty will end up with one big super council and there is some talk of the Rotorua,Taupo and South Waikato Councils bandying together to form a Unitary Council. A Unitary Council combines the functions of District/City and Regional Councils. The latest example of a Unitary is the Auckland Super City although there are four others, including Gisborne which flanks the Bay of Plenty region to its east.
This year will see a lot of activity on the local government reform front as the Far North proposes a Unitary Council. Wellington is likely to also have proposals for change and following any outcome from Wellington – Canterbury and Christchurch are likely to come onto the radar especially as commissioners, not councillors, are running the Canterbury Regional Council. Elsewhere across New Zealand, local government will be pondering whether change is required to meet the new efficiency and productivity targets set by the new legislation.
So far, caution prevails in the Bay of Plenty – and rightly so, because once a proposal for change is lodged a process is then set in motion with the Local Government Commission having a great deal of power in determining a final proposal.
The jury is out on the actual superior performance, of the Auckland monolith. However, there is one matter of which there can be no doubt and that is that the Auckland Council and therefore the Auckland region have a significant strategic capacity and capability advantage. There is now a new Auckland-based Government policy unit so Auckland now deals with Wellington in Auckland. Auckland’s voice is big. Whether we like it or not, other regions in the country are influenced by the Auckland slip stream, and as part of the Upper North Island we are closer to their air than many. Expect to see both Bay of Plenty and Waikato adjusting their regional trims to take the best advantage from the Auckland breeze.
The key issue for local government thinking in the Bay of Plenty is how to provide the Bay of Plenty region with a united, strategic voice, while also providing for very distinct communities of interest. As a recent columnist rightly said, the identities of Tauranga and Rotorua are quite unique. The worst possible outcome in my opinion would be to see a local government structure that diminished the strength of the Bay brand and voice and that didn’t recognise the very distinctive local communities’ identities. In simple business terms, the Bay of Plenty is joined up by being a supply chain to the Port of Tauranga which necessitates road transport being a top regional priority. Ditto for tourism and our other key economic drivers which also share regional synergy.
So we need to be thinking carefully about leveraging regional strengths while also supporting sub regional opportunities and identities.
It requires careful thinking and analysis so communities can ultimately make decisions based on robust analysis and facts. A good starting point for thinking about the best form of local government within the Bay would be to think about reasoned improvements to the status quo.