MP assured residents will get say on reform

By Mike Dinsdale


Whangarei MP Phil Heatley has met Local Government Commission members to get an assurance that Northlanders, and not just their local body politicians, will have the final say on any local body reform in the region.

Reform in Northland seems inevitable and the only thing really up for debate is what shape the new structure will take.

The commission has called for proposals on how any future structure should be in the region.

The Far North District Council began the debate by proposing two unitary authorities for the region, taking on the responsibilities of the existing district and regional council - one basedon the Far North district boundaries and the other combining Whangarei and Kaipara districts.

The Whangarei District Council is also pushing for a two-unitary authority structure while the Northland Regional Council wants a single authority for the entire region.

As well, two Whangarei councillors, Bruce McLachlan and Shelley Deeming, have proposed an enhanced status quo - the three existing district councils and regional council, but with all working more closely together.

Mr Heatley said he had met the commission's Basil Morrison and his team in his Wellington office on Wednesday to seek assurances that Northland residents, not just local politicians, would have the final say on any reform.

"The commission assured me the process would throw up a choice of at least three clear options later this year, including the status quo, for residents to consider," he said.

"After the community has given feedback, the commission next year will produce a final plan to be put to all residents over the age of 18 to directly vote on.

"I'm particularly reassured that the principle of 'one person, one vote' will be followed, that it will be a postal vote, and that Northland residents get the final say not councils.

"The commission also assured me that they would make the choices clear to all Northlanders so we could all make an informed decision."

Mr Heatley said he had some sympathy for the two-unitary authority concept where both resulting councils took over regional council powers: the Far North as one and Whangarei combining with Kaipara.

"I can see how Kerikeri and Kaitaia wouldn't want to feel they are in any way run out of Whangarei," he said.

"However, a single council for all of Northland would unite us and make it much easier to peddle a straightforward vision to Wellington and a story to the export and tourism markets of the world."


- Northern Advocate

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