Govt drops plan for at-large councillors

By Bernard Orsman

The Government has dropped a controversial plan to have councillors elected at large on the Auckland Super City.

This follows widespread opposition to the proposal for eight at-large councillors and 12 ward councillors on the Super Auckland Council.

The main fear was the at-large system would favour the wealthy, celebrities and political blocs who could afford citywide campaigns.

It is understood the Government is considering a halfway house with six urban wards, each with three councillors elected within the ward at large. There would also be two rural wards for Franklin and Rodney with one councillor each.

The new system is along the lines of the Auckland Regional Council, whose 13 councillors are elected from six wards and similar to a proposal from Waitakere City Council for four urban and two rural wards.

Most councils - and submitters to the Auckland governance select committee - favoured councillors being elected to represent a single ward. Auckland City Council was the only council to support at-large councillors.

Waitakere Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said the at-large proposal across the region was too much and opened itself to well-funded, vested interest campaigns.

"The six ward option brings it back to a community level that is appropriate for what we are trying to achieve."

Auckland City Mayor John Banks has gone from supporting at-large seats to lobbying the Government to ditch them for 12 wards with two members each, elected at-large.

Mr Banks denied doing a flip-flop. He still believed in having high quality people standing at large and promoting the region, but was in a "get real mode" to get as much broad-based goodwill as possible to make the Super City work.

Peter McKinlay, director of local government at Auckland University of Technology, said it was going to be hard to design urban wards that did not look like reincarnations of the current city councils, which could lead to parochially-focused tickets.

However, he said if the second tier of local boards were given effective autonomy then Auckland councillors would have less incentive to get involved in local issues and more incentive to focus on regional matters.

Sir Ron Carter, chairman of the Committee for Auckland lobby group that has been pushing for at-large councillors, said it was incumbent on councillors to not focus on issues in their own wards but consider regional issues.

He said it was up to the Government to ensure issues of regional significance were given proper attention in the governance set-up.

The Royal Commission on Auckland Governance proposed 10 ward and 10 at-large councillors, saying a mix would ensure the right balance of regional and local perspectives.

- NZ Herald

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