Mayor expects "odd" legislation to be changed

By John Maslin

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Whanganui's mayor expects a "very odd" piece of Government legislation will be changed in the face of overwhelming opposition from local authorities around the country.

It's the Local Government Act Amendment Bill, and if passed in its current form would central government handed the power to create council controlled organisations (CCOs) without the need to get support from councils and their communities.

The Local Government and Environment select committee has been hearing final submissions on the Bill, and more than 15 mayors, chairs and councillors of regional, city and district councils from around the country travelled to Wellington to voice their opposition.

Whanganui's council made a submission opposing the Bill.

Mayor Annette Main said the amendment "doesn't sit well" with what councils have been told by Government "and that is that local decisions need to be made locally".

"It's a very odd piece of legislation so I'm expecting it to be changed," Ms Main told the Chronicle.

She said even the Minister of Local Government Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga was opposed to it and at the local government conference stated he would resign if the legislation went through.

"He was asked about this contentious section of the Bill and I was heartened by his words because he actually said if this imposes anything on councils without any consultation with councils then he would resign."

Ms Main said there had been a lot of debate about the legislation across the country.

"I'm expecting changes to be made, or at least for the intention of it to made a lot clearer."

She said everyone was concerned that it seemed to allow Government to overrule local decisions.

Rangitikei Mayor Andy Watson shared Ms Main's view.

He had been among the civic leaders who made direct presentations of the select committee.

"We strongly believe it's a matter of horses for courses so what suits in Wellington doesn't necessarily work in Rangitikei," Mr Watson said.

"My reading is that the Minister has been set a line in the sand by the previous Minister and Cabinet and is now realising that there is overwhelming opposition to it."

LGNZ president Lawrence Yule said the Bill posed a real threat to local democracy and the future of communities.

"It takes away a level of democracy. For smaller councils there is a real risk that larger entities that are forced on them will mean a loss of staff, and those smaller communities are ones we are really concerned about," Mr Yule said.

"If you take the critical mass of water and roading away from councils you are taking a major part of what they do away. If you are a small council you would be left with no critical mass and then they say should we actually merge somehow, and that is where you get into amalgamation by stealth."

Ron Mark, New Zealand First local government spokesman, said Government should dump what he called an "autocratic and undemocratic" piece of legislation.

"Mr Key said the Government 'won't die in the ditch' for the bill so why persist when there is such widespread opposition?" Mr Mark said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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