Key Points:

Regional councils are under fire, with Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws saying they may be an endangered species and an academic suggesting they are performing poorly.

Mr Laws said New Zealand did not need three tiers of government - central Government, regional councils and local authorities - in a country of four million.

There are 12 regional councils and five unitary authorities which perform both roles of regional and district or city councils. Mr Laws believed unitary authorities would increase efficiency and provide local solutions to local problems and territorial authorities, such as Tasman, Nelson and Marlborough were working well.

Wanganui was considering a local bill similar to its gang patch bill on reviewing the structure of local government. Support for such a move around the country was "huge", especially from local councils, he said.

Mr Laws said the only opposition to getting rid of regional authorities came from the regional councils themselves. "No turkey votes for Christmas."

He said the chairmen of the councils were in the best-paid jobs of their lives and the senior managers would not be able to get another job in local government if they tried,.

Mr Laws has previously advocated dumping Horizons Regional Council, which covers the Wanganui and Manawatu regions.

He said it was possible regional councils were an endangered species, especially under new Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, as reviewing the two-tier structure of local government was among Act's policies during its election campaign.

Mr Laws' views were given added weight with the release of research suggesting regional councils were performing poorly on environmental issues and did not accurately reflect the values of their communities, according to Jeff McNeill, a senior lecturer in the School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University.

"Many environmental management issues are not regionally based and the regional boundaries have no particular meaning to the people in those regions," he said.

Environmentalists and farmers were more likely to share opinions and values reflecting their sector than any regional allegiance.

Mr McNeill was surprised how little regional council representation reflected their communities. Regional councils outside the main centres were dominated by farmers and retired district councillors, he said.

"Farms and municipal sewage treatment plants and landfills are the dominant pollution sources outside the large cities. It has to be a brave councillor who is going to stand up to his or her peers and tell them to pull their socks up."

However, Mr Hide told NZPA that it was a bit unfair to focus on just one tier of local government.

"One level taking potshots at another is unhelpful."

Mr Hide said the Royal Commission looking at Auckland's local government structure would report at the end of March, and that would be awaited with interest.

In the meantime, he would concentrate on what local government delivered to the ratepayer, he said.

Horizons Regional Council chairman Garrick Murfitt said Tasman and Gisborne were struggling as unitary authorities because they were vast areas with a small population, and therefore a small ratepaying base.

"That's the good thing about having a regional authority, you have a greater rating base, so you can share it out to a public good."

- NZPA