Far North District councillors have backed a proposal for a radical overhaul of Northland local government, the Better Local Government in the Far North Working Group, chaired by Mayor Wayne Brown and Ngai Takoto leader Rangitane Marsden, successfully proposing that the Far North become a unitary authority.
Councillors debated the proposal at length last week, eventually voting 7:2 to send it to the Local Government Commission for consideration.
While all backed the unitary authority plan, some believed it needed more consultation or had a better chance of success if the Far North and Whangarei submitted a combined proposal.
Mr Brown said those who believed the status quo was an option were mistaken. With Auckland already a unitary authority and Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay pursuing mergers, the Far North had to act now or have someone else act for it.
Cr Sally Macauley said with 972 submissions received - just 1.7 per cent of the population - the proposal should be subject to a special consultative process; the council had to be able to show the government it had strong public support.
Cr Di Maxwell said the plan was compelling, and gave the Far North a chance to take control of its own destiny. Many of those who opposed the plan did so only because they believed it was driven by Mr Brown.
Deputy Mayor Ann Court said it was "a damn good proposal," but needed further consultation. The annual plan, due to go out this month, was a good chance to do that. She agreed that some form of reform was inevitable, but the government's conviction that bigger was better, and the fact that Whangarei had not formally backed the Far North's proposal, meant Northland could end up with one unitary authority.
"I think it's a very good proposal and it has wings, but I can't vote for it until the community tells me they want it," she said.
"This is not about railroading through a proposal to suit a pre-determined timeline or agenda, nor is it about a game of one-upmanship with the Northland Regional Council. This is about the future of local representation and democracy in Northland."
Cr Tom Baker was unhappy that he had received the business case only the previous afternoon, and said the Far North and Whangarei should submit a joint proposal. If it appeared the two councils could not work together it would be easier for the LGC to impose a single unitary authority.
Cr Tracy Dalton backed the plan, saying it was unique among council projects in that Maori had been involved from the start.
Mr Brown urged against delay, saying there had been 15 public meetings already and the vote was only a first step. If the LGC liked the plan it would consult widely before going ahead.
"You can go in early and affect your future, or you can sit back and wonder what happened to you," he said.
A frustrated Mr Marsden was one of the last to speak, hitting out at councillors' hesitation.
"If you can't deliver on this today, we're out of here. We have too much at stake. We'll do what we can for the betterment of our people," he said.
The motion to lodge the proposal with the LGC was moved by Cr Monty Knight and seconded by Cr Dalton. Crs Court and Baker voted against it.