Council rejects single-authority plan

By Peter de Graaf

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Mayor John Carter and Deputy Tania McInnes.
Mayor John Carter and Deputy Tania McInnes.

The new Far North District Council has rejected a proposal to merge Northland's four councils into one.

The Local Government Commission (LGC) unveiled its proposal last month to combine the region's one regional and three district councils into a single authority based in Whangarei with seven community boards for local representation.

The LGC came up with the plan after the previous council and iwi applied for a Far North unitary authority.

Councillors voted 7-2 to reject the LGC proposal at their first public meeting in Kaikohe on Thursday, with Mayor John Carter and deputy Tania McInnes opposing the motion.

Mr Carter said he had pledged during his campaign to fight any proposal he believed was Whangarei-centric, but would otherwise present the pros and cons to the people of the Far North and let them decide.

If he took a position now he would not be honouring that commitment, he said. Rejection of the LGC's plan was followed by debate as to whether the council should restate its support for separate Far North and Whangarei unitary authorities, or call for modifications to the LGC proposal instead.

Crs Willow-Jean Prime and Ann Court said the community had shown "overwhelming support" for the two unitary authority proposal, so the council would have to consult the community again if it opted for something else.

Cr Di Maxwell said the two unitary authority proposal was dead in the water. The only options left were to back the LGC proposal or reject it, which would mean keeping the current system.

Many councillors were concerned they were only getting a summary of the LGC's proposal and not the full report.

Cr Prime said the summary was full of sweeping generalisations about the benefits of a merger without evidence to back them up.

It stated that reorganisation would save $5 million a year but did not provide figures to show where those savings would come from.

A second resolution proposed by Cr Court was agreed on by all but Cr McInnes, who abstained.

No one could recall the exact wording so it was to have been recovered later from the chamber's recording system.

The resolution called for a public information campaign and encouraged ratepayers to make their views known via the LGC submissions process.

Following protestations about the submissions period coinciding with Christmas and Waitangi Day, the LGC has extended the deadline by a week to February 21 as a "goodwill gesture".

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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