Caution needed at merger support figures

By Gary Caffell


How much should be read into the strong support given a unitary authority for the Wairarapa region when the general populace were asked to give feedback on the shape of local government reform here.

The stats are impressive, with a report from the Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party telling us that two-thirds of the 1100 respondents were behind the unitary authority proposal they have been touting on behalf of the three district councils.

There are, however, three important points to consider when those figures are being analysed.

Firstly, while the number of replies was encouraging you have to remember they represent a very small percentage of ratepayers across the three councils, something like one-40th I suspect.

Secondly, whereas members of the working party worked hard to promote the unitary authority concept by knocking on doors, street meetings etc there was little, or any, response from their detractors in that respect.

Thirdly, a late decision by the working party to commission a report on the viability of a unitary authority for Wairarapa has many people waiting to see what that brings up before making their own voices heard, including the above-mentioned detractors I would assume.

They have been told a further consultation process will take place once that report has been tabled, and that's when their silence will be broken.

Emotion obviously had a big part to play in the feedback process as evidenced by comments that respondents did not want to be governed by Wellington and concerns that a metropolitan council would not be best positioned to determine the future of a rural community such as ours. Sentiments of that nature are easy to understand but at the end of the day it will be - or at least should be - affordability that decides the fate of the unitary authority concept.

If the impact on rates and level of services is shown to be sustainable then well and good, if not then you would have to think it will back to the drawing board.

Gary Caffell is a Masterton district councillor.


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