Key backs changes for Auckland

By Bernard Orsman

The prospect of a super city council and single mayor for the whole Auckland region got a boost yesterday when Prime Minister John Key came out in support of change.

Mr Key told the Herald that the "status quo is not a long-term feasible option for Auckland" and the Government supported change and was prepared to act. Local Government Minister and Act MP Rodney Hide said Auckland needed "fixing".

They were responding to a Herald story that expects the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance to recommend a shake-up of local government, including bold proposals for the creation of a super city and election of a single mayor with executive powers.

Neither Mr Key or Mr Hide would comment on the super city/super mayor proposal, saying they would wait for the release of the Royal Commission's report on March 31.

"Royal Commissions are rare events and their conclusions should be taken seriously by governments," Mr Key said. He expected the Government would make the commission's report public within hours of receiving it to avoid any suggestion of political interference.

Mr Hide, a strong supporter of a super city for Auckland before becoming a minister, said Auckland was broken and needed fixing. There was great enthusiasm throughout the region and at local and central government level for boldness, he said.

The Royal Commission called the Herald story "speculative", but did not deny any of the proposals outlined in the exclusive report.

Commission chairman Peter Salmon, QC, said that the matter of Auckland's governance was a complex, multi-layered issue, which required careful thought and decision-making.

"The commission is due to present its report to the Governor-General on March 31 and does not intend to release its recommendations before that date.

"Articles of this nature, which purport to reveal the commission's decisions, are unhelpful and disturb council staff throughout the region," Mr Salmon said.

Labour, which set up the Royal Commission when it was in government, said it was keeping an open mind on the future governance structure of Auckland until it read the report.

Auckland Issues spokesman Phil Twyford said most Aucklanders expected some kind of super city to tackle the big problems of infrastructure, but it was vital Aucklanders still had accessible councillors and no loss of bread-and-butter services, like libraries, rubbish collection, recycling, parks and pools. 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" empowered to make decisions and run local services.

Auckland City Mayor John Banks and Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee yesterday said they would consider standing for mayor of the super city. Both politicians support the one-city model and strengthened local councils.

Mr Banks, 62, said becoming Mayor of Greater Auckland would be a great way to finish his political career.

He and Mr Lee were cool on the suggestion that the Royal Commission would recommend a greater role for the super city in social issues.

Mr Lee, a left wing politician, said he would be reluctant to see central government social responsibilities off-loaded on to a new city region when getting there was going to be tough and new infrastructure was greatly needed.

The mayors of Waitakere, Manukau and North Shore were less happy at the prospect of a super city. These three city councils were criticised by Mr Salmon for putting their own interests ahead of the interests of Auckland when they finished giving submissions to the commission in June last year.

North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams said to read that one super city could do better by governing the whole of the Auckland region was horrifying.

Manukau Mayor Len Brown was concerned that the future of Manukau as an entity was at risk and called for more community input into proposals.

Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said there was no proof a super city would bring financial benefits to ratepayers.

He was not considering standing for the big mayoral job at this stage, but would not rule it out.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association welcomed the concept of a super city with an executive mayor, on the proviso that the super council was balanced by small councils.

A Herald online poll found 72 per cent support and 28 per cent opposition for a super city with an executive mayor to govern the Auckland region. The unscientific poll attracted more than 2600 votes.

- NZ Herald

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