Opposition to low numbers of councillors

By Simon Hendery

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule.

Concerns that only nine councillors will represent all of Hawke's Bay under a plan to amalgamate the region's councils can be addressed during consultation on the proposal, its architects say.

The Local Government Commission this week released a draft proposal to radically reshape local government in the region by establishing a single Hawke's Bay Council based in Napier to replace the region's cluster of five councils, comprising four mayors and 49 councillors.

Under the commission's proposal, the region would have a single mayor, nine councillors and five community boards with 37 elected members.

The low number of councillors proposed under the plan has met opposition, including from one of the most staunch supporters of amalgamation, Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule.

Mr Yule says the unitary council should have at least 16 councillors, with two representing each of the Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay wards, which each have only a single representative under the proposal.

Those numbers mirror the submission put forward by lobby group A Better Hawke's Bay (ABHB) this year, which sparked the commission's reorganisation proposal.

ABHB chairwoman Rebecca Turner said yesterday the group still believed Wairoa and CHB should have two members each on the super council.

"It's important for them to have good representation," she said.

However ABHB was neutral on the total number of councillors that should represent the entire region, saying a council of 16 plus a mayor could be seen as unwieldy.

Local Government Commission chairman Basil Morrison said this week the commission believed nine councillors would provide "a better mix" in combination with the proposed community boards but discussions on the numbers would be part of the consultation process between now and March 7 next year.

"We really look forward to what people think," he said.

"Should it be a mayor and nine councillors? Should it be something else?

"Should it be more community boards?

"Should it be less? All of those sorts of things."

The five wards proposed by the commission, as areas for election of councillors and community boards, are: Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Central Hawke's Bay and Ngaruroro (the rural area of the current Hastings District Council footprint).

In its 56-page proposal document, the commission lists loss of local identity as one disadvantage of its plan but says "the proposed system of community boards would address any concerns raised about local matters not being dealt with locally".

The document also addresses the issue of residents in smaller areas.

"There may be a perceived risk of the new local authority being dominated by the Napier-Hastings area but this has been addressed by a ward system of representation and a structure of empowered community boards able to make decisions on local matters," it says.

Mr Morrison said the proposed single council's structure would be enhanced under a planned law change to create so-called "local boards" with greater autonomy and decision-making powers than community boards.

If the legislation to enable boards is passed early next year, as expected, the commission is considering modifying its proposal to replace its planned community board structure with local boards.

The chairman of anti-amalgamation lobby group Democratic Action Association, Ian Dick, said he did not believe the local boards concept would provide a suitable replacement for the community identity and autonomy that is feared will be lost under a merged council.

Ms Turner said her group would lobby hard for the local boards legislation to be passed.

"We want them to be empowered boards.

"The community board doesn't quite cut it for us."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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