Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Ill wind blows hint of more supercity plans

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The balloon crash tragedy was made easier by the closeness of Carterton's small community. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The balloon crash tragedy was made easier by the closeness of Carterton's small community. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Some people would call Hon Fran Wilde a woman - others might call her a force of nature.

As a former Labour MP, now Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman, she's incredibly effective at Getting Things Done.

Her list of achievements would exhaust my word count, but include homosexual law reform, the Adoption Reform Act, campaigning for a nuclear-free New Zealand and against rape within marriage, and, as Wellington mayor, overseeing Westpac Stadium.

What Wilde wants, Wilde gets. No bad thing.

Which is why anyone who rejects three supercouncils - Wellington, Canterbury and Auckland - should be afraid, as suggested by commentator Colin James last week. Because Wilde has been sprung circulating a secret, unofficial "discussion paper" promoting a supercouncil for Wellington, taking in Porirua, Kapiti, Lower and Upper Hutt, and all Wairarapa.

She reckons this could be "up and running" within two years and would have just 11 members. Wilde says: "We need the ability to grow."

As I said, she's a busy lady, so she may have overlooked the fact the lower North Island's been growing for nigh on 200 years without a supercouncil.

We in the Wairarapa view Wilde's supercouncil with the same regard Basil Fawlty viewed his wife's garden gnome and we know what we'd like to do with it. South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples is more polite, stating: "We don't want a bar of it."

The jury's still out on the Auckland Supercity. Formed in part to end bickering between mayors, fights have just shifted to central government - witness the politicking over funding the inner-city rail loop and northern highway, and Maori statutory board.

Same bones, different dogs.

Ousted Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast started this Supercity megalomania, arguing a bigger entity was needed to compete with Auckland for funding. Some of us worked to make sure she got dumped because Wairarapa's rates would just end up being an ATM machine for Wellington's infrastructure.

An informal alliance of savvy representatives can just as easily lobby ministers as a supercouncil. But leaving aside financial issues, there are other reasons supercouncils are bad.

Yet again, New Zealand is suffering a tragedy and this time it's in my neighbouring town, Carterton, which has flags at half-mast for 10 holidaymakers and their pilot who clambered into the basket of a hot-air balloon then, 45 minutes later, met a terrible death.

Somerset Rd, formerly my shortcut to the plant shop and still closed to traffic this week, will evermore be sad.

I was in Tasmania watching this unfold in the media, holding my breath as the victims were named and I was so grateful to see the familiar face of Carterton Mayor Ron Mark there among his people.

How comforting to know Mark would have been on first-name terms with police, ambulance drivers, victim support, whanau, priests and vicars, and relatives of the deceased. Mark and his partner, Christine Tracey, see these people in the street every day.

Would the new supermayor, based in Wellington, know these people?

Does the South Island really want to be corralled into one big Canterbury Supercity, a la Auckland, with supermayor?

If I lived across Cook Strait, I'd be tucking a garden gnome under my arm right now, ready for insertion into someone's bottom.

The point is, people get lost in these big supercities - they have no voice. Is Super Auckland any better now? I pay rates in Auckland but I have no say and that stinks.

Where I live, Martinborough, is small and democratic. Mayor Adrienne Staples knows most of the people. She and the vicar, May Croft, when officiating at ceremonies together, joke that they are rent-a-mayor and rent-a-prayer.

It's been years since I read Schumacher's Small is Beautiful but maybe he was half-right after all: "Economics as if people mattered."

- Herald on Sunday

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