Hastings backs bill to make merger easier

By Lawrence Gullery

Hastings is flagging its intention to back government plans to streamline and amalgamate councils while Napier is likely to oppose it at every step.

Hastings District Council will meet today to approve its submission to the "Better Local Government" reforms, an amendment bill to the Local Government Act 2002.

The bill included a proposal to make it easier for councils to reorganise by using the results of a poll over the total area affected by the merger. The current rule allowed polls in each area, which must all return a result in favour of amalgamation in order for it to go ahead.

It was used at the previous attempt to merge Napier and Hastings in 1999. Hastings voted in favour, Napier against, and so the status quo was retained.

The Hastings council's submission said it was "strongly supportive" of the changes around merger proposals.

"The current regime allows proposals for improved regional decision-making and coherence to be easily frustrated by minority communities within regions and is in need of change.

"The council strongly supports the proposals that the result of polls should relate to the total area affected by a [merger] proposal."

Under the bill, anybody could apply for reorganisation of a council. If deemed to have significant community support, it would be assessed and then publicly notified. If 10 per cent of voters petitioned against it, a poll would be held to determine a final outcome.

The council said it wanted more definition around "significant community support" which, if left, could be open to litigation. It also wanted clarity around who could apply to initiate a merger.

The council said if the Government was serious about amalgamation, it should be leading the movement in "particular areas". The last change to council boundaries in Hawke's Bay was in 1989.

Napier City Council would submit to the reform plan reflecting the fact "65 per cent of its people did not want to amalgamate", Mayor Barbara Arnott told Hawke's Bay Today recently.

She said the roles had been turned and the criteria favoured amalgamation, tending towards "bigger is better".

A Hawke's Bay Regional Council officer's draft submission to the bill said the procedure for amalgamation appeared to be a "foregone conclusion" with little broad community support required across the entire affected area.

It could lead to hostile takeovers, the swamping of less populous authorities and asset grabs.

The draft submission is subject to changes by the regional councillors at today's corporate and strategic committee meeting.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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