A dummy's guide to the new Northland Council

By Peter de Graaf

3 comments
Detail of the LGC map showing the new council structure.
Detail of the LGC map showing the new council structure.

Confused by the proposal for a single Northland Council? We don't blame you. This Q&A will hopefully answer at least some of your questions...

What's it all about?

The Local Government Commission (LGC) has proposed merging Northland's three district councils and one regional council into a single Northland Council.

Why change things?

Following Auckland's ''Supercity'' merger the government passed a law making reform of other councils possible. First out of the blocks was the Far North District Council and the Far North Iwi Leaders Forum, which asked for a unitary authority (a combined district and regional council) following the Far North's boundaries. That allowed the LGC to put the wheels in motion - though it has chosen a single Northland-wide council, ironically the one thing former Mayor Wayne Brown didn't want.

How will it work?

Northland will be divided into seven wards, each electing one or two councillors. The mayor will be elected by Northland as a whole. Each ward will also elect a six-member community board, like the boards currently in the Far North but with more clout. The LGC says that structure will preserve local democracy while allowing Northland to speak with one voice.

What are the proposed wards?

Te Hiku, Kaikohe-Hokianga, Coastal North, Coastal Central, Whangarei, Coastal South and Kaipara.

Will my rates go down?

Not necessarily, although the LGC expects savings of $5-10m a year.

So why do it?

The LGC says a single council will give Northland a stronger voice, especially when trying to get a better deal from the government. It also means businesses and ratepayers will have to deal with only one council, not two, when they're trying to get things done.

Will everyone have to pay for Mangawhai's debt?

No ... not for the first six years anyway. Locally-incurred debts will be ringfenced for six years, meaning only the ''community of benefit'' will have to pay. What happens after six years will be up to the new council.

What happens to big assets like Northport?

Assets will be shared across the district.

What about Maori?

The LGC does not have power to create Maori seats (though the existing councils do). Instead it has proposed a standing committee with representatives from all iwi as well as appointed councillors, and a Maori Advisory Board to deal with resource management matters. These boards would give advice but can't vote at the council table.

What happens next?

The proposal is out for submissions until February 14 (see www.lgc.govt.nz). After that the LGC will hold public hearings and, if its finds enough support, put out a final plan. Elections could be held in October 2015 with the first council serving a four-year term (to bring Northland back into kilter with the rest of the country).

Do we have any say?

You can make a submission and ask to speak at the hearings (see www.lgc.govt.nz). Once the final plan is out the proposal can be put to a binding poll if 10 per cent of registered voters in any one of Northland's three districts signs a petition. In Kaipara, for example, only about 1200 signatures would be needed; in the Far North, about 3500.The referendum would be held across the whole district and requires a simple yes/no majority.

Where will the new council be based?

In Whangarei District with service centres in Kaitaia, Rawene, Kaeo, Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Kawakawa, Ruakaka, Mangawhai and Dargaville.

What will it cost?

The LGC expects the merger will cost $5-10m.

- Northern Advocate

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