Super city: Key gives grassroots more say

By Bernard Orsman

Prime Minister John Key will today announce a super city council for Auckland but one with more grassroots democracy than recommended by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

The Herald understands the Government has dropped a commission recommendation for six local councils underneath a super Auckland Council in favour of a larger number of "community boards".

The Government has been looking at proposals to have 11 and 20 local councils that were rejected by the commission because of the high set-up costs, disruption it would cause and questionable community benefits.

Mr Key echoed a widespread view when he said yesterday that he and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide had concerns about local democracy.

"We've come up with what we think is a good proposal," he said. "The problems in Auckland are well defined - now it is up to central government to show leadership."

Mr Key and Mr Hide will announce the Government's decisions on the commission's report in Auckland at 2pm today.

Mr Hide will separately brief mayors, councillors, business and community leaders.

They will announce that a super Auckland Council, with an elected mayor, will be voted on in the local body elections in October next year.

The Auckland Council is likely to have 23 councillors as recommended by the Royal Commission, but it is not known how many will be elected from wards and how many over the whole city, and what will happen to a proposal for Maori seats.

The commission recommended 10 ward councillors, 10 elected at large and three Maori councillors - two elected from the Maori roll and one appointed by local iwi.

It is understood the Government looked at basing the wards on Auckland's 21 parliamentary boundaries, but rejected this option because the boundaries keep changing and because of possible tensions between Auckland councillors and MPs.

The Herald understands that instead of using the term "local councils", the Government will call the second-tier "community boards" or something similar, to better reflect their grassroots role.

The community boards would have more powers than present boards, and their functions, powers and duties would be set in law. They could also have powers delegated from the Auckland Council.

The commission suggested these could include dog control, gambling, liquor licensing and brothel policies, hearing and deciding most resource consents, building consent processing and looking after local parks, roads, footpaths, events and graffiti removal.

The Government is also expected to announce details of the complicated process of moving from one regional council, seven local councils and 30 community boards to the new system.

The transition period will be unsettling for more than 6000 council staff in Auckland, who face job uncertainty in difficult economic times.

One of the three commissioners, David Shand, told National Radio on Sunday that "the number of staff will be reduced in the longer term".

Mr Key disagreed with critics who said the Government was moving too quickly.

The Royal Commission had studied thousands of submissions and spent millions of dollars investigating Auckland's problems, and if changes were to be made, they had to be ready for next year's local government elections, he said.

The Super city: what to look for

One super Auckland Council.

One mayor, elected at large.

Community boards to replace local councils?

Maori seats - will it happen?

Councillors at large, councillors by ward, or a mix of the two?

- NZ Herald

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