Local democracy lost in transition, critics warn

By Bernard Orsman

Concern is growing over what critics see as erosion of local democracy nine months before the start of the Auckland Super City.

Concerns are also being raised about the business units in charge of areas such as transport and water, which will be run by unelected directors.

"Where is the world 'local' in the new form of local government for the region?" Maungakiekie community board chairman Bridget Graham asked in an opinion piece in the Herald.

"There is no indication that any notice has been taken of what people really want."

Similar sentiments have been expressed by politicians as diverse as former Alliance MP turned North Shore city councillor Grant Gillon and former National MP and Auckland City Mayor John Banks.

Auckland City councillor Aaron Bhatnagar, a close confidant of Mr Banks, has cited the business structure of many council functions as a reason for not standing for election to the Super City.

Last year, the Government rejected the overwhelming opinion of submitters to a Super City bill who called for the roles and functions of local boards to be defined in legislation.

It settled on the principle that local issues should be decided by local boards.

The Government passed the job of setting initial roles and functions of local boards to the agency designing the Super City. A discussion paper on the issue is to be issued by the Auckland Transition Agency in March.

Mr Gillon and Bridget Graham see the Super Auckland Council becoming emasculated by council-controlled organisations - the business units put in charge of transport, water and other ratepayer services - with consequences at local level.

The relationship between the Auckland Council, council-controlled organisations and local boards is unclear.

Auckland Regional councillor Dr Joel Cayford said the loss of public control to the transport business unit would extend down to the location of bus shelters, parking restrictions and the choice of street trees.

"These decisions will all be under the control of a relatively unaccountable entity," he said.

Mr Banks, who will stand for the super city mayoralty, said local boards were a critical part of the jigsaw and must have the power, influence, responsibilities and the budget to meet the needs of their residents and ratepayers.

If elected on October 9, Mr Banks said, he would delegate regulatory functions to local boards for such matters as gambling, liquor licensing, brothels, dog control and noise.

But the centre-right politician, who has stopped community board members sitting on planning hearings and acting as spokespeople on trees, believes elected members should not sit on resource consent applications.

The Auckland District Law Society and some commentators believe local boards should have responsibility for local planning and resource consents.

Associate Local Government Minister John Carter yesterday urged people not to judge the local boards before they came into existence.

He said the Auckland Transition Agency had specialists doing the forensics on each function to ensure that every local function was appropriately delegated.

- NZ Herald

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