Auckland will be one huge city with a super-mayor

By Bernard Orsman

EXCLUSIVE: The whole Auckland region will be governed by a new super city council from next year.

It will be headed by a single mayor with executive powers to make independent decisions.

The Herald expects the report of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance will recommend a bold shake-up of local government, including radical proposals for an executive mayor along the lines of London and the creation of a super city council.

The super city will stretch 140km from Pukekohe in the south to Wellsford in the north.

With 1.4 million people, it will be the largest city under one council in Australasia.

It is not known what the commission has in mind for the region's four city councils, three district councils, one regional council and community boards.

One option is to abolish the existing councils for smaller "community councils" with elected leaders.

In another bold move, the commission will almost certainly recommend the mayor and new council become more involved in the social needs of the region, such as affordable housing.

The three members of the commission, retired High Court judge Peter Salmon, QC, former public servant Dame Margaret Bazley and David Shand, who headed the 2007 inquiry into rates, have until March 31 to report to the Government.

After spending last year receiving and listening to public submissions and visiting overseas cities, the commission is finalising its recommendation for a new local government structure to serve Auckland for at least the next 50 years.

The commissioners have agreed on a broad framework, but some of the detail is unfinalised.

The commission has taken a strong interest on whether Auckland should have a mayor with executive powers.

It asked for public comment on the issue and Robin Hambleton, professor of city leadership at the University of West of England in Bristol, advocated the idea in a research paper for the commission.

But while some groups, including the Committee of Auckland, pitched for a London-style executive mayor to bring about change, the 188 submissions made on the idea opposed it two-to-one.

No New Zealand town or city has had an executive mayor, and former Local Government NZ chairman Basil Morrison believes it will not go down well with the rest of the country.

Mr Salmon has previously told the Herald that popular support or opposition for an issue would not necessarily win the day. The commission would ultimately decide what was best based on all the information.

In the social area, the commission seems likely to recommend the super-council take a more active local role in addressing the complex social challenges facing Auckland, while keeping the provision and funding of services as a role of government agencies.

While some submissions, including that of the Auckland City Council, said social issues should be left to central government, the commission has paid attention to the social development and well-being of New Zealand's biggest city.

Former Ministry of Social development general manager Elizabeth Rowe wrote a research paper for the commission calling for strong leadership and advocacy for social issues.

She said Auckland was New Zealand's most populous, ethnically diverse and fastest-growing region. It had large inequalities and a disproportionate share of decile 1 and decile 10 schools and lagged behind the rest of New Zealand in important social areas - in particular, early childhood education and household overcrowding.

In one submission, the local government centre at Auckland University of Technology said local government was now seen as an essential part in addressing issues associated with poverty, poor housing and other aspects of social disadvantage.

One idea that could find its way into the final report is the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust, which was started by the local council with backing from Housing New Zealand to provide affordable housing.

The trust has helped people into homes without exposing ratepayers to any financial risk.

- NZ Herald

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