The regional council keeps the LGNZ link

The West Coast Regional Council voted narrowly to retain its membership in New Zealand’s local government after hearing a ‘tsunami’ of law change affecting councils will only intensify.

The council voted 4-3 late last week to retain its members after the national lobby group introduced the councillors.

Chairman Allan Birchfield said he was voting no to put the group on notice. Crs Peter Ewen and Brett Cummings also objected.

Cr John Hill said LGNZ’s advocacy role was not well received.

“It comes in the opposite direction: you come to local government advocating for central government,” he said before casting his vote.

Crs Debra Magner and Stuart Challenger expressed similar views.

LGNZ Chairman Stuart Crosby acknowledged dissatisfaction with the LGNZ’s role in its dialogue with the government on the Three Waters issue.

However, his position on this has also been grossly misrepresented, Mr Crosby said.

“LGNZ took a stand to try to influence what we considered to be a very bad model – and we still see it as a bad model.

“Although we agree with a process and agree with certain principles, we do not and have not agreed with the model.”

LGNZ had put off the government’s reform model for nine months.

“We have been able – with great success so far – to change it and we will continue through the bill process…we have influence.”

However, he warned the council that he needed to be represented as much deeper reform affecting local government was looming.

“The biggest game in town is the changes to RMA [Resource Management Act].”

The Combined District Plan process imposed by the government on the three West Coast territorial authorities was one such change that is now being reported for the rest of the country.

The regional council was given responsibility for drafting the combined plan, but this also came at a high cost to its taxpayers.

“You are the leader in New Zealand in this space, but you have to pay for it. We think we could have helped you in this process. Ultimately the power of one has an impact, but the power of 77 [local] the authorities definitely have more to go to the government.”

Cr Laura Coll-McLaughlin acknowledged that local government was about to undergo “unprecedented change”.

Cr Coll-McLaughlin said it was not a good idea for the regional council to ‘walk away’ from LGNZ after noting the latter organization’s role in championing localism and place-making within the local government.

She noted that LGNZ was able to provide the council with a much-needed advocacy service at a time when local government was going through unprecedented change.

Cr Hill said the council felt helpless and coerced in the face of changes to the law as the government pushed through changes during the current legislature.

It was therefore very difficult for the boards to respond adequately and consult as needed, given that they were now in the last quarter of the current triennium.

“You mention…the power of 77, but what ratepayers and local councils are saying is that despite the power of 77, the government is moving forward. It’s not just three waters. We had a report today that lists the tsunami of new laws and bills that the central government is calling for,” Cr Hill said.

“It just doesn’t fit the bill, if you’ll pardon the pun… The timing is wrong. They’re forcing it.”

LGNZ chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene said the reality of the tsunami of legislative reform affecting local government was unrelenting, with the absolute majority in government at present, while the “place-making role” advice was threatened by the reform of the Resource Management Act.

The LGNZ played a role in this to ensure that the ‘sons’ of local community representation were included in the reform.

“What we need to make sure is that the local voice is always front and center.”

– By Brendon McMahon
Local Democracy Journalist

Elna M. Lemons