War of words over authority

By Mike Barrington


The possible creation of unitary authorities in Northland had two of the region's local authorities manoeuvring at opposite ends of the North Island yesterday.

While a Far North District Council delegation in Wellington was seeking Local Government Commission approval for the district to become a unitary authority, a Northland Regional Council meeting in Whangarei was planning to survey Northland citizens on all the options for unitary authority creation in the region.

Far North Mayor Wayne Brown was fuming over what he claimed was NRC secrecy over its latest foray into the unitary authority debate.

And he was particularly concerned that the agenda for yesterday's NRC meeting proposed spending between $60,000 and $100,000 setting up a citizens' panel, open houses and workshops to survey the public on Northland options on local government reorganisation.

Wayne Brown pointed out that the NRC had backed out of matching $20,000 contributions other councils had made in 2010, when the McKinley Douglas report, commissioned by the region's three mayors, recommended a single unitary authority for all Northland, or two based on Whangarei and Far North district boundaries, as the best options for local governance.

"Now they [the NRC] have got $60,000 to spend on undermining us," he said.

However, after robust debate the NRC yesterday rejected a recommendation which would have enabled its chief executive officer to use savings and reserve funds to prepare for public consultation on unitary authority issues early next year.

Instead, regional councillors decided the CEO should bring a fully worked up and costed engagement plan to the council at its meeting in February for approval.

The regional council agreed to use information from Northland communities to shape its own advocacy position on local government reorganisation in Northland on behalf of the region's residents and ratepayers.

NRC chairman Craig Brown said his council wanted the public to decide whether to keep the status quo or form one, two or three unitary authorities.

It was his view there were "big holes" in the Far North submission to the Local Government Commission. "This should not be about one sector taking care of its parochial interests. Northland people should examine all the options then say what sort of governance they want for the region," Craig Brown said.

- Northern Advocate

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