A contentious plan to restructure Auckland into three enlarged cities under one greater council has been ditched only a week after being mooted by the region's four big-city mayors.

The Auckland Mayoral Forum yesterday jettisoned the amalgamation plan - which Prime Minister Helen Clark welcomed last week - but agreed on a need to strengthen regional governance in time for next year's local body elections.

That followed a u-turn on the plan by Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey, who faced stiff opposition from his councillors and ratepayers to a proposal to carve up his city among its Auckland City and North Shore neighbours.

Mr Harvey, who was tipped as a possible Lord Mayor of a Greater Auckland Council, was by Thursday saying Waitakere must survive as a separate entity.

He defended his backdown last night, saying he believed everyone had a right to change their mind - "even in politics."

In the absence from yesterday's meeting of Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard, who is in Japan, Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis was unable to garner support from the forum even for a resolution to "streamline" council boundaries.

Sir Barry insisted last night that strengthening regional governance was the main aim of the plan, and he remained confident the time would come for a further rationalising of the seven territorial local authorities left from the 1989 reorganisation of 29 Auckland councils.

He indicated dismay at Mr Harvey's change of mind, saying the Waitakere Mayor would have to "live with his conscience" after having signed up to the three-city plan before it was delivered to the Prime Minister in Auckland.

Papakura Mayor John Robertson, who stood in for Mr Hubbard to chair the meeting and whose council would have been swallowed up by an enlarged Manukau City in the proposed new structure, confirmed that the forum voted against "any restructuring or re-aligning of territorial local authority boundaries".

But the forum, which comprises the three district mayors and Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee as well as the city mayors, agreed that the respective councils should develop in consultation with the Government by Christmas a proposal "that can secure public support" to strengthen regional governance.

The proposal was adopted largely from a presentation by Mr Lee, who was kept out of the loop last week when Helen Clark received the city mayors' plan.

The mayoral forum called for the proposal to include recommendations on which governance functions should be handled regionally, which should be local authority responsibilities, and how Aucklanders should be represented in any modified regime.

It said the proposal must address agreed shortcomings of existing arrangements, identify opportunities for better efficiency and effectiveness exceeding any costs of reform, and "support the democratic purpose of local government".

Mr Lee said he agreed Auckland needed to achieve stronger regional governance and that there was considerable public disenchantment with the current structure.

He believed all water services, including stormwater, should be wrapped into Watercare and transport agencies should be streamlined.

"Much of Auckland's local government works well but clearly some parts do not. Let's accurately define the problems before we jump to solutions."

Sir Barry said he had apologised to Mr Lee for not including him in the mayors' proposal.

He said it had always been intended as a two-step exercise in which strengthening regional governance was to come first, in time for next year's local elections, to be followed by the three-city proposal about two years after that.

The mayoral forum's resolutions were welcomed yesterday at an informal meeting on the North Shore of councillors from four of the region's councils.

Mood swing

"It is a historic point in time and we have just got to run with it."
- Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard, Wednesday, September 6.

"I think everyone has a right to change their mind, even in politics."
- Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey, last night.