The Far North District Council could be a unitary authority by next year if a new working party succeeds in its bid to gain greater decision-making powers for the district, according to Mayor Wayne Brown.
The council and iwi leaders had formed a working party to develop a plan to ensure the district's governance structure better met the needs of its communities, he said. It would look at proposals in the Government's Better Local Government programme and report to council, iwi and the community on changes to take the district forward.
Mr Brown will jointly chair the working party with Te Taitokerau Iwi Leaders representative Rangitane Marsden.
The decision to form the working party followed discussions about governance reforms at hui between iwi leaders and the council last year. Northland mayors and iwi leaders also met then Local Government Minister Nick Smith at Waitangi in February to discuss their councils' aspirations.
Mr Brown had been pleased to hear new Dr Smith's successor, David Carter, affirm his commitment to the reform programme when he met him earlier this month. "Transferring powers and assets from the Northland Regional Council would mean more decisions about the Far North would be made by people in the district.
The current system doesn't serve the district well, because decisions made by locally-elected councillors are undermined by a body that is Whangarei-centric and remote from Far North communities and their issues."
He also believed that creating a unitary authority would simplify governance and reduce bureaucracy. "It's confusing and costly for ratepayers and customers to have to deal with two councils, and merging administrative functions would save millions of dollars," he added, while having Maori seats on the council would make it easier to build broader consensus around decision-making and show leadership from all sides to progress the positive future of Northland together.
Mr Marsden said iwi leaders who attended a meeting in Kaitaia in February supported the idea of a unitary authority with direct Maori representation, but wanted input on any proposed governance structure from an early stage.
Any proposal to offer Maori direct representation on a unitary authority would need to be based on principles of partnership in the Treaty of Waitangi and reflect the strategic priorities of iwi.