Former Waitakere City mayor Sir Bob Harvey says there is no place for a regional council in the Bay of Plenty if the region is to grow into the future.
Sir Bob was one of the keynote speakers at the Rethinking Local Government in the Bay of Plenty conference, held in Tauranga yesterday.
He said that during his time as mayor and during his involvement with the restructure of Auckland City, the Auckland Regional Council was the biggest barrier to growth in the region and it would be the same in the Bay of Plenty.
He said local councils were more than capable of protecting their own environments and "any organisation that looked like providing difficulties to business growth should be seriously questioned".
"Local councils can provide their own environmental checks and balances. This should be, and can be, done locally," he said.
In a recent story published in The Daily Post, Bay of Plenty Regional councillor Neil Oppatt said Rotorua was in danger of losing its identity and being run by a Tauranga-based "super council" if the city's leaders did not engage in debate regarding changes to the Local Government Act.
About 300 delegates attended the conference - including the mayors of each of the Bay of Plenty's councils - which was set up to discuss recent and future changes to the act, which has opened the door for sweeping changes to local government organisations. Another keynote speaker, AUT Local Government Centre director Peter McKinlay, said discussions regarding local government reform did not need to begin with talk of amalgamation.
"Amalgamation is seldom the right answer. There is no single instance in the world that shows amalgamation would reduce costs."
Mr McKinlay said local councils were in a much better position to provide services to their individual communities than a larger organisation and councils would better serve their ratepayers by sharing services and expertise.
Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters said it was much too early to discuss the future of the regional council.
Regional councillor representing Rotorua Lyall Thurston said the debate had raised some important issues facing the region and it was important to bring the debate back to Rotorua.
"The key decision-makers in the Bay of Plenty have to get together. It behoves our city fathers, the chamber of commerce, the Grow Rotorua board and the community to hold informed debate about what is best for Rotorua," he said.
Regional council chairman John Cronin said there was room for a regional structure.
"But the real question is who populates that structure. The community needs to be able to ask these questions, making sure we retain strong local government. We all want to be at the forefront of change and not be dealt to by outsiders," he said.
In a joint statement by all the regional mayors and Mr Cronin, they said change was possible in the Bay of Plenty in the medium to long term.
"What that change might look like is not yet determined, so it's important we work together now to make sure we're in the best position to respond to a changing environment for the benefit of all our ratepayers," the statement said.
"The fact that all these local bodies are willing to come together to collaborate and share information is a clear indication that we can and do work together well and that, regardless of what the future looks like for the Bay, we will continue to work together to deliver effective and efficient governance." They said the Bay of Plenty was a unique region and getting the governance structure right was vital.