Local Government Minister Paula Bennett has rejected calls for a law change that would let individual communities opt out of proposed council amalgamations.

The move is a blow for three Hawke's Bay mayors who have been part of a group of civic leaders pushing for the change through council advocacy group Local Government New Zealand.

Mayors Bill Dalton (Napier), Craig Little (Wairoa) and Peter Butler (Central Hawke's Bay) were among about 12 mayors who met in Wellington on Wednesday to discuss concerns the Local Government Commission is "forcing" council amalgamations on regions - including Hawke's Bay.

The commission is part-way through hearing submissions on its draft proposal to merge the region's four territorial authorities, along with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, into a single unitary local authority.


Wednesday's Wellington meeting of the Local Democracy Coalition called on the Government to change the law "so that no amalgamation can occur against the wishes of a majority of potential voters within the boundaries of any affected council".

Under present law, a final amalgamation proposal from the commission can only be rejected if it is opposed by a majority of voters in a poll held across the entire affected region.

Last month the Napier, Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay Councils played a pivotal role in putting a remit about the issue on to the agenda of Local Government New Zealand's annual meeting, to be held next month. The remit calls on LGNZ to drop its current neutral stance on amalgamation and lobby the Government for the law change proposed by the LDC.

But this week, Ms Bennett pre-empted the remit by writing to LGNZ to say the Government did not support the proposed law change.

She was responding to a letter from LGNZ president and Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, who wrote to the minister about the issue after it was raised at an LGNZ meeting in April.

Mr Dalton said he was not surprised by the minister's response, given her Government changed the law in 2012 so that polls were taken over the entire area affected by a proposed amalgamation.

He said he was heartened by the fact that at Wednesday's meeting politicians from three opposition parties - Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First - had indicated their support for the change proposed by the LDC.

Hastings District Council supports amalgamation and Mr Yule said he believed the current law was democratic because everyone in an affected region could vote on whether an amalgamation went ahead.


"I have no particular issue with the law personally. A lot of my members in Local Government NZ do and I'm advocating on their behalf. I understand why some communities feel threatened by it," he said.

The Local Government Commission resumes its hearings in Hawke's Bay next week. It will hear submissions in Waipawa on Tuesday, Napier on Wednesday, and Wairoa on Thursday.