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Myths, and Bigger Myths

Owen McShane has some pretty way out views on a number of subjects, but on local government, he gets close to the mark.

Here is an extract from his latest missive - it is well worth a ponder as we enter the bright new World of amalgamations:

The Myth that Bigger is Better.

The routine response to any problem in local government is to propose amalgamation. The end result is a local authority considerably larger than the one whose problems have proved too big to deal with.

Dr Smith, the Minister for Local Government and the Environment, has recognized that Local Government is dysfunctional, drawing attention to the escalating rates and debt levels that are causing waves of discontent all around the country. These symptoms of widespread failure of are largely the result of the last round of amalgamations in 1989.

But sadly he is also launching a further round of amalgamation. For example, he is promoting the amalgamation of the Unitary Councils of Tasman and Nelson into a single Unitary Council. Kaipara District Council is in financial meltdown and so he has proposed similar amalgamations for Northland.

He says his general aim is to get rid of Regional Councils. However, his current proposals will actually get rid of Local Councils, leaving behind a few truly massive “Super-Regional Councils”. It will take 4.5 hours to drive from one end of the Tasman/Nelson Council to the other. The merged Kaipara-West and Far North Council would stretch from Kaipara Harbour’s North Head to Cape Reinga – another 4.5 hour drive.

This bias is understandable; Dr Smith is an engineer, and he instinctively focuses on the efficiency of regional services which do enjoy the benefits of scale.

But democracy enjoys no benefits of scale. Small local councils can be effectively governed by local citizens and managed by local staff and consultants who actually know their people and territory.

Many councils are in the midst of RMA plan reviews and any amalgamation means the millions of dollars invested in those plans must be written-off and the whole planning process, including Long Term and Annual Plans, begun again. Proposed reforms to the RMA will generate another round of plan reviews. This endless plan writing halts all development because of the consequent DURT (Delays, Uncertainties, Regulations, and Taxes).

This is the time to implement a comprehensive reform of the legislative framework for the whole of local government in New Zealand.



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