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Far North in first with unitary plan

By Peter de Graaf

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The Far North District Council has beaten every other cab off the rank to get its plans for a unitary authority to the commissioners considering how to reshape local government in New Zealand.


Mayor Wayne Brown and iwi leaders presented their proposal to replace Northland's four councils with two unitary authorities to the Local Government Commission in Wellington on December 18.


If the proposal is accepted the FNDC would take over the responsibilities of the Northland Regional Council, creating a single-tier local government that Mr Brown says would be less bureaucratic and more cost-effective.


Under the proposal Whangarei and Kaipara district councils could combine to form a second unitary authority, or remain as they are with the regional council covering a reduced area.


Mr Brown said he was proud to lead the first council in New Zealand to lodge an application under new reorganisation provisions aimed at making local government more efficient. Councils in Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay are understood to be working on proposals of their own.


Mr Brown travelled to Wellington to lodge the proposal with Better Local Government in the Far North Working Group members Rangitane Marsden (Te Taitokerau Iwi Leaders representative), George Reilly (Te Runanga a Iwi o Ngapuhi chief executive), Pita Tipene (Te Runanga o Ngati Hine representative) and David Edmunds (council chief executive).

They were supported by councillor Di Maxwell and Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira.


Mr Marsden said the council's willingness to form a alliance with iwi by creating Maori wards showed a boldness lacking at other councils.


''This sets Northland on the road to becoming a `template example' for better local governance where iwi and council work together to fulfil the aspirations of Far North people,'' he said.


The commission will assess the proposal and decide whether it has enough community backing before publicly notifying it and inviting feedback or other ideas. The commission will have the final say on the shape of local government in Northland.


Councillors voted last month to go ahead with the unitary authority proposal, but it has not been without controversy. Some councillors argued that more consultation was needed than the series of public meetings held earlier this year, or that ratepayers didn't understand what the proposal meant.


Supporters say the Kaipara debacle means local government reorganisation is inevitable in Northland, so it's better to come up with a proposal than wait and see what the government imposes.


However, the prospect of merging with highly indebted Kaipara is unlikely to be welcomed in Whangarei.


What the FNDC fears most of all is a single, Whangarei-centric unitary authority for all of Northland.


While the Far North representatives were in Wellington, regional councillors voted to consult Northlanders on their preferred options for local government.


Mr Brown said the NRC was planning to spend up to $100,000 of ratepayer money on a consultation exercise which the Local Government Commission would hold anyway.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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