Unitary authority plan assessed

By Peter de Graaf, Peter Jackson

The Far North District Council's proposal for a unitary authority has taken the next step towards becoming reality -even though the Local Government Commission is not yet convinced it has Northland-wide support.

The FNDC wants to take over the Northland Regional Council's functions and set up single-tier local government while sticking to the current Far North boundaries. Similar unitary authorities already exist in Auckland, Gisborne, Marlborough and Nelson/Tasman, but the Far North proposal would also set aside three seats for Maori and has iwi backing.

The FNDC was the first council in the country to get its proposal in after Parliament passed a new law designed to pave the way for local government reorganisation.

However, the commission pointed out in a statement this week that the Far North proposal also affects Whangarei and Kaipara.

''As a result the applicant was required to show there is a degree of community support ... from the other two districts as well as from Far North District,'' commission chief executive Donald Riezebos said.

However, the commission has agreed to assess the proposal.

Mr Riezebos said the commission's next step would be to gauge support across the whole region. That would involve talking to all four councils and, if necessary, some form of public consultation.

Because the FNDC's proposal was the first under the new law, it was hard to know how long the process would take. However, Mr Riezebos said the commission was keen to get it done expeditiously, and expected the bulk of the work would be done this year.

Far North Mayor Wayne Brown described the commission's response as predictable and ''slightly timid'' - but a first step forward.

''It's pretty much what we expected, and at least the commission's satisfied that we do have community support,'' he said.

He had no idea how long the process would take but hoped it would be quicker than the average Treaty settlement.

''I'm not a young man any more, in relative terms,'' he said.

If the commission is satisfied of Northland-wide support for reform - not necessarily a majority - it will publicly notify the proposal and call for alternative ideas.

It will then consider any new ideas alongside the Far North proposal and the status quo. If it chooses any option apart from the status quo it will have to write up a draft plan, publicly notify it and call for submissions.

If the commission still wants to go ahead with its preferred option, it then has to prepare and notify a final proposal. The public can force a vote if 10 per cent of voters in any one of the three districts signs a petition. If no vote is called for, or of 50 per cent of voters are in support, the final proposal goes ahead.

If the FNDC plan were to go ahead as proposed, Whangarei could merge with Kaipara to form a second unitary authority, or a rump NRC could be retained to serve the Whangarei and Kaipara district councils.

- Northern Advocate

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