The Local Government Commission has heard that its proposal to change Northland's four councils into one is unjustifiable, will not benefit ratepayers, will fracture rather than strengthen local communities and reduce democracy.

Those were among points raised by speakers at yesterday's submissions hearing in Whangarei before commissioners Basil Morrison (chairman), Grant Kirby and Anne Carter.

The first speaker, Maunu resident Brian Cox, called for an "enhanced status quo" for Northland's local government. Mr Cox said local government must be based around communities of interest but could share some infrastructure provision such as waterways, roading and other threads common to the whole region.

Mr Cox said "no" when commissioner Grant Kirby asked if he thought "empowered local boards" would help overcome any perceived lack of community ownership.


Mr Morrison asked if Mr Cox was aware Northland suffered a lack of political stability and collegiality, evident in the region having several short-term mayors and chairmen since the 1989 local government restructure. Mr Morrison compared it with the small Hauraki and Matamata-Piako districts which had only two mayors and council chief executives in that time.

"With due respect, I think that is red herring," Mr Cox said.

He implied Mr Morrison was getting issues of collegiality and democracy confused.

Whangarei businessman Frank Newman addressed three submissions that carried his and others' names. Mr Newman said there "was a general view" that large councils could shut individuals out of the democratic process, were less in touch with community, developed a culture that often compromised individuals' and property rights, were less transparent and more open to "soft corruption".

Mr Newman said nowhere in the commission's reformation proposal were financial or other tangible gains outlined.

He said 90 per cent of Northland ratepayers would face a rates increase to absorb Kaipara District's debt blow-out, and criticised the proposal to ring-fence that debt for only six years.

The reform proposal itself was spurred by former Far North mayor Wayne Brown and also demonstrated the commission's desire to bring change that central government wanted, he said.

Northland's new leaders, John Carter (Far North mayor), Sheryl Mai (Whangarei) and Bill Shepherd (Northland Regional Council), worked well together and would collectively make good decisions for the region, he said.


"It is absurd to assume that Northland can't speak with one voice."

At one stage Mr Morrison had to raise his voice to say "talk to the Northland draft" when Mr Newman insisted on noting the similarities between the commission's Northland and Hawke's Bay proposals despite the regions' differences.

The hearings continue in Mangawhai today.