Region's heart under review

By Bernard Orsman, Paula Oliver

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The eight councils, 264 elected members and 6000 bureaucrats who run Auckland will undergo an intensive performance review with the appointment of the Royal Commission into Auckland yesterday.

The three commissioners - headed by retired High Court Judge Peter Salmon, QC - have been given a blank sheet of paper to restructure Auckland for the benefit of its 1.3 million citizens and wider national interests.

Plans for a royal commission were unveiled in July after Prime Minister Helen Clark was unimpressed at ideas put forward by local councils for streamlining local government.

Local Government Minister Mark Burton said the Government did not have a fixed position on what should happen in Auckland, but felt that "refinement" of the existing seven territorial councils and one regional council was needed for the region to fulfil its potential.

The commission will set up base in Auckland and hire staff before Christmas. It could issue discussion papers before hearing public submissions next year. The commission has to report back to the Government by December 1 next year.

The estimated budget is $5.5 million to cover running and operating costs and payment for the three commissioners.

Politicians, business groups and lobbyists for a super city welcomed the calibre of the members and broad terms of reference.

National Party leader John Key said he was looking forward to significant progress on the issue of Auckland governance.

He was particularly pleased that the terms of reference recognised the importance of relationships between central and local government, and would address the ability of Auckland to compete internationally.

Two groups pushing a single super city for Auckland welcomed the commission.

One Auckland Trust chairman Grant Kirby said the royal commission needed to ignore competing claims from individuals and organisations focused on self-interest and survival to devise a structure that works more efficiently, uses assets better and delivers better value to ratepayers.

Employers and Manufacturers (Northern) chief executive Alasdair Thompson said the best outcome for Aucklanders was a local council structure that looked after local issues and a structure that allowed regional decisions to be made at the regional level.

But new North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams warned against a single city, which he said would end up being an "uncontrollable monster".

TERMS OF REFERENCE

* Receive representations, inquire and investigate on local government arrangements required in the Auckland region over the foreseeable future to maximise in a cost-effective manner for the current and future well-being of the region and its communities.

* What governance, institutional and ownership structures and funding responsibilities would best help the Auckland region to provide key infrastructure, services and facilities.

* Take into account the implications of the findings of the independent inquiry into rates.

* Consider legislative changes needed to support the commission's recommendations.

* Consider boundary changes to the Auckland region.

* Transitional processes for any new or changed local government arrangements.

* Requirements for effective relationships and collaborative arrangements between central and local government.

* Consult with the public and engage with Maori in a manner that provides with their needs.

POLITICAL REACTIONS

Mike Lee, chairman of Auckland Regional Council

I'm absolutely confident the commission will discharge its duty in a very rigorous way and its recommendations will be rigorous and objective.

The terms of reference appear to encourage structural change. If there is structural change then there will have to be very good cost benefits to justify that.

John Banks, Mayor of Auckland City

The terms of reference are broad enough to give them plenty of opportunity to seek consultation and come up with a deliberation that should be watertight enough for any Government to pick up and run with.

It's a big day for Auckland. I can imagine it will have some of the region's politicians already looking to their future. But it is not about us, it's about the future of greater Auckland and the future of this country.

Andrew Williams, North Shore City Mayor

It's a very knowledgeable cross-section of people leading the inquiry and a balance of people within Auckland and outside Auckland.

They'll be able to look at how the Auckland region can go ahead in the future. This has been boiling up for many years.

In a city with about one and a half million people it would not be good to have one council. The whole city is bigger than the South Island and I don't think the South Island would agree to be governed by one council. The North Shore and North Harbour are very different to say, Counties-Manukau and Auckland City.

Mark Ball, Franklin Mayor

I think the commission will be the catalyst for a robust, mature discussion. Two thirds of Franklin is actually in the Waikato region. People don't think it's fair that they contribute to say Lake Taupo and then have to put money towards an Auckland amenities bill. People say "Yeah, they're part of Auckland they can pay" but most of us actually are not.

Calum Penrose, Papakura Mayor

I am very pleased to see the Royal Commission under way and to see that the terms of reference for the inquiry clearly underline the importance of giving a voice to communities.

Papakura has always been a strong and vibrant community with a well developed sense of identity and awareness, and we look forward to having input to the commission on that basis.

Penny Webster, Rodney Mayor

As far as Rodney's concerned, we will watch with interest. Rodney is a unique area. the metropolitan area does need looking at and we will see how we fit into that when the final report comes out.

Bob Harvey, Waitakere Mayor

I think the Royal Commission is a terrific start but what needs to be addressed is a far bigger philosophical agenda about funding, about how funding is derived, about where funding is accessed from, different methods of rating, a different attitude really to what cities look like and feel like in the 21st century.

Right now my thinking would be that we would need more cities, not less. '

Len Brown, Manukau Mayor

We are very much looking forward to the work of the commission and will put our input into it. It is essential our views are received. There has been a lot of debate in our city as to what might come out of it.

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