Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Wellington mayor pushes for merger of local councils

Celia Wade-Brown's re-election will be a boost to advocates of a single super-city for the Wellington region. Photo / SNPA
Celia Wade-Brown's re-election will be a boost to advocates of a single super-city for the Wellington region. Photo / SNPA

Wellington's re-elected mayor wants to push ahead with a merger of local councils but won't say whether she would run as mayor of the super city.

Left-leaning independent Celia Wade-Brown retained the mayoralty by 2284 votes in a nail-biting race with former councillor and cricketer John Morrison, gaining 26,854 votes to Morrison's 24,570.

Both candidates had been hoping for a clear win rather than a repeat of the tight result in the 2010 election, when Wade-Brown had to wait a week for special votes to confirm her victory.

The cycling mayor, who has made transport a key plank of her campaign, is now joined by three other Green councillors - making Wellington the greenest council in the county.

As well as Wade-Brown who, although independent, is linked to the party, Green councillors include incumbent Iona Pannett and newcomers David Lee and Sarah Free.

The Greens also saw two candidates, Paul Bruce and Sue Kedgely, elected to the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

A jubilant Wade-Brown told supporters she had been given her a clear mandate, and it was good to know the result on the day.

"I'm feeling really pleased, really grateful for all the supporters and looking forward to the next three years.''

Her victory will be of comfort to super city proponents, led by Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde, who wants to amalgamate the capital with the Porirua, Hutt City, Upper Hutt and Kapiti Coast councils.

The Local Government Commission is investigating proposals for a merger, with or without the three district councils in Wairarapa, which could merge into a separate unitary authority.

The issue is up for public consultation and could go to a referendum if more than 10 per cent of voters in any one of the areas wants one.

Wade-Brown supports a single-tier urban super council, without Wairarapa, with an elected mayor and 29 councillors elected to wards.

A super council is also supported by Porirua mayor Nick Leggett, who was elected for a second term yesterday - but Leggett backs the two-tier council proposal favoured by Wilde, who was also re-elected.

The two-tier model would include Wairarapa and an elected mayor, 21 councillors elected to wards, and eight local boards with up to nine members each.

Wade-Brown said Wellington City would be the economic hub of any new council - but she would not say whether she would stand as super city mayor.

"Let's get on with the work for the next three years first.''

Those plans include an economy led by high-tech industries, a conference venue and a museum celebrating the city's film industry.

Wade-Brown also wants to commit to a living wage, starting with the 400-odd council workers who are currently on less than a living wage.

The council has already budgeted $250,000 to introduce the wage in a "staged approach'' from January next year.

Transport has been a key plank for Wade-Brown, who was first elected on a campaign that focussed heavily on light rail.

A study in her first term pitted the costly $1 billion-odd light rail proposal against a cheaper bus rapid transit option.

The study called for either option to be implemented in 2021, but Wade-Brown wants to bring that forward - but exactly when, she won't say.

She conceded central government had different transport priorities to light rail, but that could change in the future.

Wade-Brown's majority was greater than the 1570 special votes cast this year - a record number of special votes, and almost double the 774 in 2010.

Voter turnout in Wellington was up slightly to 40.85 per cent, excluding special votes, from 39.54 per cent in 2010.

Morrison took a chance in standing for mayor rather than re-election as a councillor, but his campaign was marred by gaffes.

He landed in hot water after he publicly commented that he would be showering with a body-paint model, who said she felt humiliated by the comment.

Morrison also admitted plagiarising the council's chief executive in a newspaper column, and was accused of sexism after sending different letters to male and female voters - the men's ones mentioning sports grounds, and the women's ones family and shopping.

He did not return calls for comment.

Greens' co-leader Metiria Turei said the Wellington result was a "Green sweep'', with every Green candidate who stood in the city and regional councils being elected.

The last time there were as many Green councillors was in 1992, when four were elected to the city council and one to the regional council.

Ms Turei said the Government should take heed that a "Green tide'' was coming in.

"This really goes to show that, despite the National Party's attempts to erode the role of councils and take the local out of local government, communities really do want representatives who care about people and the environment,'' she said.

- APNZ

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