The Local Government Commission heard a strong argument for the retention of Northland's existing local government structure (one regional and three district councils) in Kaitaia last week, most passionately expressed by Kaitaia Business and Environment Centre CEO Cliff Colquhoun.
He told commissioners Basil Morrison (chairman) and Anne Carter that the Far North was only now beginning to "feel like a district", 24 years after the amalgamation of six local authorities in 1989, and that major reconfiguration at this time would condemn the district to more years of chaos.
"Ask anyone over the age of 40 what has been gained from amalgamation and you won't get many answers. Ask what's gone wrong and you'll get a list this long," he said.
"We don't need more confusion. We need to focus on what has to happen within this community. We don't need more change unless it's positive change that focuses on the problems we have here."
In 1989 the Far North had three prosperous centres in Kerikeri, Kaikohe and Kaitaia. Now it had one, he added.
Kaitaia's business community had provided 90 per cent of the goods and services needed by the Kaitaia Borough and Mangonui County councils. If the promised economies of scale had been realised the district council would now be operating a significant surplus, but the reality was that multi-national companies had taken the work that was once Kaitaia's.
"That's why people aren't here today, he said. (The meeting attracted 18 people).
"They don't feel that they can participate any more. Everything happens elsewhere. If in 1989 if you had said you were going to amalgamate Kaitaia and Kaikohe you would have filled the (Far North Community Centre) hall."
Mr Colquhoun argued strongly for the status quo, or failing that one unitary authority for the Far North and another for the remainder of Northland. He also argued that elect local government representation was less of an issue than the quality of the policy-makers who would advise the elected representatives. There was more support for a Far North Unitary Authority (and none for a single Northland authority), critics of the existing regional council claiming that it was Whangarei-centric and lacked local knowledge, making the resource consent process torturous and expensive, and leading to the arbitrary setting of environmental standards that might make sense in Whangarei but not in the Far North, while Te Hiku Community Board chairman (and regional council candidate) Dennis Bowman said promises prior to 1989 that big would be better had proved empty. The only thing had that grown in the last 24 years was debt.
Nor did he understand the "rush" to a further amalgamation. He believed there was significant room to improve the relationship between the FNDC and NRC, a view shared by regional councillor (and candidate) Bronwyn Hunt, although she believed co-operation would only be possible when elected members left their egos at the door.
She also favoured the forming of a statutory Maori advisory board over the provision of Maori seats, which she did not see working given that Northland was home to 13 iwi.