Chairman Basil Morrison is leaving the Local Government Commission just weeks after completing a two-year process under which he drove the commission's proposal for amalgamation in Hawke's Bay.

Mr Morrison's three-year appointment to the commission ends on July 31 and Local Government Minister Paula Bennett said yesterday he would be replaced on August 1 by prominent former civil servant Sir Wira Gardiner.

Sir Wira was a founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal and the founding chief executive of government Maori development agency Te Puni Kokiri.

The change in leadership at the commission will have no impact on the local amalgamation process - electors will still vote in September in a region-wide poll to decide whether the Bay's five councils should be merged into a single local authority.


A second commissioner who deliberated over the Hawke's Bay amalgamation issue, Anne Carter, is also leaving the commission at the end of the month and will be replaced by former Manukau City Council chief executive Leigh Auton.

But former Timaru Mayor Janie Annear, a third member of the commission, whose role last year included fronting public submission hearings in Hawke's Bay, has been re-appointed for a further three-year term.

"The appointment of new commissioners will have no impact on the Hawke's Bay proposal," a spokesman for the commission said yesterday.

"The commission has issued a final proposal and whether it proceeds or not is in the hands of the people of Hawke's Bay through the September 15 poll."

Mr Morrison is a former Hauraki District Mayor, who also served as president of Local Government New Zealand, a role currently held by Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule.

In his role at the commission, he was criticised by some anti-amalgamation campaigners as an appointee of the pro-amalgamation National-led government, with a mandate to push through merger proposals.

But the commission has insisted its role is to impartially follow a process for reviewing local government structures set out in the Local Government Act.

"Fundamentally, we need local government to focus on delivering sustainable infrastructure, making sensible spending decisions, and listening to its citizens. It is the commission's role to look at the structure of local government and ensure we have a strong regional focus to promote job growth and increased social wellbeing," Mrs Bennett said yesterday. "For too long the argument has been on how many mayors we have, instead of looking at key infrastructure and economic growth. I will be asking the commission to be creative and think seriously about the different kind of local government structures that will help our communities continue to prosper."


Napier Mayor Bill Dalton welcomed Mrs Bennett's comments as a sign she was "at long-last listening to local government and the people".

"Clearly the Local Government Commission were pre-determined and the Local Government Minister has had enough and she's now appointed new people and said the focus should be on prosperity in our communities rather than reducing the number of mayors."

Mr Yule said Mr Morrison was very experienced in local government matters and had served out his time in a role that, at times, was highly contentious.