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Exit Unitary Council 

The Mayor used his Member’s Report period to regale Council with his endeavours at the Mayoral Forum a month ago when he was roundly rebuffed on his motion that the assembled mayors reject any suggestion of a Waikato wide unitary authority.

He failed to get a seconder, but remains convinced that there were many present who agreed with him,  who were not prepared to ‘buck the system’. Actually, it may be more reflective of his general popularity within the Forum, and the reaction at that level to his bombastic and bullying approach that is so successful with his compliant Council. Such success can lead to hubris on a grand scale, and whether or not there is incipient support, such an outcome is quite predictable.

He gave huge emphasis this afternoon to the significance of Hugh Vercoe’s announced intention to stand down from the Matamata-Piako mayoralty, and stand for the Regional Council. That say’s a lot said Leach. So Reihana and Geoffrey Robinson will have to wait a little longer – a local Unitory is out of the question, or if you like - dead in the water, whether Coromandel alone, or in combination with others.

It is pity that this has happened – the debate should have been held, and everyone given the opportunity to contribute – it is just unfortunate that it has been handled in the manner it has,  The final nail in the coffin will apparently be hammered home at a region-wide conclave at Karapiro later this month.  Our people (Hammond and Leach) seem to think that by withholding financial support for the Forum's plan to extend 'colaboration' between councils because of the lack of transparency is a good idea - we shall see!   




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Reader Comments (12)

Hubris - isn't that an excess of arrogance and ambition that leads to ones ulitimate downfall? Wow.

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDal Minogue

While Bill's reportage on the Mayoral Forum (the fact that Glenn Leach put a motion opposing creation of a Waikato super-unitary council that failed to get a seconder) may be accurate, his conclusion is far from correct.

By no means is the question of a unitary authority for the Coromandel "out of the question" or "dead in the water". If anything, the likelihood of such an outcome is greater now than at any point in the past. Given recent changes to legislation; the relevant underlying geographic, economic, and social facts; strong public support for self-governance, and; political backing from Leach and virtually the entire council, most of the unitary Coromandel Council puzzle pieces are in place. The only missing link is a realistic budget...and that is likely to be achievable.

The Mayoral Forum, a working group of Waikato CEOs and mayors, has little if anything to do with the amalgamation process in any way, form or fashion. Leach's motion would have been put for no reason other than to "make a statement" or "put a stake in the ground". Whether that was necessary or helpful in any way is questionable. But everyone following the Waikato amalgamation story for the last two years knows that the collected mayors and CEOs as a group are officially against taking any stand on any particular structure at this time. They have said so.

Here are a few basics to regain perspective:

Local government reorganisation in the form of unitary councils is gathering momentum and will happen throughout New Zealand. The government has tipped that prior to the next local body election, it will deal with Wellington region only. While not a done deal, Wellington region is likely to be split into multiple unitary councils. Elsewhere, city and regional councils have been told they will have to wait until the 2016 election. Meanwhile, there is a known preference on the part of central government and big business to create the smallest number possible of new councils. Auckland Council supercity is the model, and corporate interests favour the idea of a small number of unitary councils created to follow current regional boundaries (which, by the way, were created quite arbitrarily). If the government wants to pursue a new initiative on mining or fish farming or industrial farm water usage, or property development, it is easier to deal with fewer decision-making bodies than more.

For the Waikato, as elsewhere, the outcome preferred by private sector corporate interests is a single, super-council for the entire region. This would mean one plan and one set of rules and policies from Coromandel Town to Taupo and from Whangamata to Huntly -- all decisions being made in Hamilton. As described by proponents of the all-region councils, local government for existing districts, such as Thames-Coromandel, would be reduced to the status of community boards to give advice and implement local services. Policy would be made elsewhere.

For Waikato Regional Council (recently renamed and repurposed for this very reason), the preferred amalgamation option is also the all-Waikato super-council as described above. This is basically an extension and expansion of its current structure whereby it would also assume all planning and policy development for the entire region and capture all rates. While it may make perfect sense for Hamilton and the districts that surround it and form its natural economic and geographic catchments to combine planning, policy and services, it makes little sense to include areas that are geographically, economically, ecologically, and socially entirely different. In fact, for the Thames-Coromnandel District, it would be a disaster.

For Thames-Coromandel District, one need look no further than: years of double-digit rates increases from Environment Waikato; millions of dollars and years wasted on mangroves; millions of hard coastal flood control dollars diverted to goats and possums; totally inappropriate SNA designations; $11 million spent on a velodrome for Cambridge; permanent charges to clean up Lake Taupo farm pollution; quintupled mooring fees; inappropriate and costly WRC Moanataiari policy; inappropriate pest control policy; millions to eliminate bovine Tb when our district has been Tb-free for years...The list goes on and on. This is why TCDC councillors and the public do not want to relinquish their democratic control of policy and planning to regional council office staff hours away in an urban Hamilton office block. It's not Glenn Leach who is pushing the idea of a a unitary Coromandel Council. It is the majority of T-C District residents and ratepayers who want it.

As for the politics, internal WRC staff reports cite the need and inevitability of changing local Waikato local government structure. This translates as one or more unitary councils. WRC chair Peter Buckley has publicly spoken out against having more than one unitary council. That translates as meaning he supports a single all-Waikato super-council. Technically, however, WRC has not come out an said it in plain English...yet. But as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow right on time, it certainly will put forth, or lead a group of mayors to put forth, just such a reorganisation plan within the next 12 to 18 months.

Hamilton City Council is officially on record as supporting a unitary council for "greater Hamilton". According to sources within that council, they have workshopped the idea but favour close-in boundaries that would include Raglan up to Huntly. Other proposals have been put forth that include all or parts of Hamilton City and Waikato, Waipa, Otorohanga, South Waikato, Taupo, and Matamata-Piako districts. None so far have officially included Hauraki or Thames-Coromandel districts. Why? Because doing so would presumably make no sense. But that is changing. The last major report from the Property Council of New Zealand revised its thinking. This influential business lobbying group now supports amalgamations along existing regional boundaries. Look out Coromandel.

So, what is the outlook? In some months, a proposal for an all-Waikato unitary council will emerge from Hamilton. In the meantime, just like the mayors of Carterton, Masterton and South Wairarapa districts, TCDC has been smart to start investigating the possibility of forming a smaller unitary council that would better serve its unique geographic and economic area. TCDC has been proactive and, as a result, will have the time to develop one or more unitary restructure options, if the numbers are close, to put to the public for comment and ultimately a decision. And as for the costs and budgets, much of that has to do with choices of and by the public about which activities and services it values and which it can dispense with. That's called democracy in local government.

The process will take time and will be ongoing. Just like in Wellington region, Thames-Coromandel residents and their council can expect intense political opposition from Hamilton-based and other Waikato councils, mayors and CEOs to any proposal to break away and formulate our own Coromandel Council. The recent (and irrelevant) Mayoral Forum "rebuff" is confirmation of just that. Wairarapa mayors were able to fend off their regional council and other backers of an all-Wellington region super-council because they saw what was coming, saw it was bad for their area, did their homework early, and came up with a better plan. From what we understand, TCDC is following the same course.

One thing is for sure (and an important factor in government's ultimate decision on the matter). The people will be out in force in support of a Coromandel Council. Far from dead in the water, the plan is paddling along nicely.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey Robinson


There have been elements in the Councils approach to a unitary Coromandel Peninsula Council that have give all the appearance of a rabbit running somewhere with his tail on fire - the original proposal, always doomed for those who ever thought about the politics of it, for a unitary Council including ourselves, Hauraki and Matamata-Piako is a case in point. So was leach's stupid motion to reject any suggestion of a Waikato-wide unitary authority. It would be a very optimistic person who would regard Leach's as "putting a stake in the ground" rather than a political misstep that unnecessarily antagonised all our neighbouring Councils for no good or achievable purpose.

Bear in mind that if we do not attain Unitary status, our working relationship with all the Waikato Councils will have been wrecked or seriously compromised due to that rather reckless act.

Also, there are many people who have yet to make up their mind on whether a stand-alone Coromandel Peninsula unitary Council would be a good idea. I haven't yet come to that conclusion as many important facts are yet to be put on the table and I am still wondering whether, when a Mayor like leach is elected, the idea would have any merit at all.

Like many, I believe that environmental protection is important and that in some instances District Councils can be taken over by interest groups that are not committed to that protection.

Your comment that in relation to a unitary Council: " for the costs and budgets, much of that has to do with choices of and by the public about which activities and services it values and which it can dispense with. That's called democracy in local government", is one I find particularly worrying as anyone who looks can see that District Council elections are, when the stakes count, controlled by those who regard themselves as the political elite in this District. These are the 'old boys' networks loosely based on the local branch or branches of the National Party. Leach is a creature of that network just as Lux was before him. Development at all costs and bugger the environment is where you may be heading with your unqualified approach.

I guess the question is: when dealing with our environment, which is precious to many of us, would it be a good idea to have some sort of split and therefore distance between the creators of broad policy parameters and those undertaking or enacting it? That distance is currently created by the Regional / District Council split and to many it might be considered a wise option given that small District Councils may often be driven by short term political goals rather than the desire to establish and maintain consistent and meaningful environmental standards of protection.

Really, and completely honestly, I have great reservations about leach and his crew establishing a unitary authority - probably they would then set about wrecking all the good objective planning criteria that currently protects our environment on the Coromandel Peninsula.

While I applaud your obvious passion to do what is best for the Coromandel Peninsula, I don't believe the matter of a unitary Council has been properly thought through yet and that the issue is much broader than you think. Hopefully, public debate will eventually capture that.

Dal Minogue

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDal Minogue


While I don't wish to turn Bill's blog into a debate, I am afraid your comments highlight a key misunderstanding on the part of some regarding the Coromandel unitary council discussion.

You caution that failure to attain unitary council status could "wreck or seriously compromise" our "working relationship with all the Waikato councils." Furthermore, you suggest that "some sort of split" such as that currently in place with the "Regional/District Council" structure might be a better option -- in other words retaining the status quo.

What you may not recognise is that the status quo -- the existing regional and district council arrangement -- is not going to be an option much longer. Neither here in the Waikato nor anywhere else in New Zealand. Like it or not, the tide is going out on two-tier local government.

It is a virtual certainty that a reorganisation proposal to create a unitary authority will be put forth for Hamilton and the greater Waikato in time for the 2016 election. The idea has official political support from Hamilton City Council, (unofficially) from Waikato Regional Council and government, and explicit backing from big business. Hamilton will likely be "next up" after Wellington, possibly along with Northland. The only question is how widely the boundaries will be drawn. Almost certainly the strongest push, as with Wellington and Geoffrey Palmer, will be for a single supercouncil covering the entire Waikato as presently defined. There will no longer be a "Waikato Regional Council". There will no longer be a "Thames-Coromandel District Council" or a "Hauraki District Council" or any other district council in the Waikato. Our district's "working relationship" with other districts will not be hurt...because our council and those councils will not exist. Likewise, the current "split" that you suggest might be best simply will not be an option...that "split" will no longer exist.

Regardless of whether the current regional/district set-up has its merits, it is not going to be an option for the long term. Our district, which is unique and very different geographically, economically, and otherwise from the rest of the Waikato, will have two other options, and only those two. The options will be to form its own unitary Coromandel council or to be drawn into an all-Waikato unitary council. Either planning and policy for the Coromandel will be formulated on the Coromandel, or they will be formulated for us in Hamilton by a regional supercouncil.

This is not about specific individuals or who would be mayor. That's up to voters every three years. Rather, it is about whether this district will have its own elected officials, whoever they may be, to make policy and to be held accountable locally, or whether our district will have its policy determined for it in Hamilton with our local government being downgraded (as is being advocated by all-Waikato unitary promoters) to community board status and residents turned into a rates mine for the western urban corridor.

The Wellington/Wairarapa scenario is the best indicator of how the Waikato reorganisation will unfold. Either our district chooses strong local self-determination and prepares to put forth its own proposal for a standalone unitary council (as did Wairarapa) when Hamilton/Waikato puts forth its own proposal for an all-Waikato unitary council (which it most certainly will), or we will be forced into the latter by default. There will be no "we like things the way they are" option. It is not about "breaking away" from other district councils and WRC today. It is about being prepared with a viable alternative structure for local self-determination when the pressure is applied, as it will be, to form an all-Waikato supercouncil.

As for your environmental concerns, they are shared up and down this peninsula by people of every stripe and colour. It is what living here is all about (despite honest disagreements about pest toxins). If small unitary councils in Marlborough and Tasman-Nelson and the Chathams can capably look after their ecosystems and environment, so can the Coromandel. And we will likely do a much better job of it at less expense than if overseen by six-figure managers in Hamilton East.

All the best,
Geoff Robinson

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey Robinson

Yes all the best Geoffrey - but I prefer to wait and see what is on the table first before deciding - and much of what you say is just speculation. And truly, politics aside, from what I have observed in the local Council, there is not the wit or wisdom for TCDC elected membership in any way shape or form to consistently operate a balanced environmental protection policy. 'Hick town' politics maybe a wonderful thing, but I doubt it would be so wonderful when let loose on our environment.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDal Minogue

Geez Geoffrey - give me a break, if this is not a forum for debate what is it?
I am sitting on the sidelines enjoying every moment of it. And while I am about it, let me say that I was the only outsider (along with Robert Jeffares) at the meeting. He turned to me a the end and asked - "What was that all about?" My reply was to the effect that I thought Leach set it up in that manner in order to get it out there without the need for a formal agenda item.
He made it abundantly clear,no matter what he may have told you, that he believed that the idea of a Cormandel Unitary Council would not fly, and that it seemed highly unlikely that the adjacent councils would go with us on any basis - plain and simple.
I am more enamoured with the concept that Dal obviously, though I still think it needs to go through a number of hurdles before it even gets to first base - you are dreaming if you think that a majority of ratepayers in favour will be sufficient to carry the day in Wellington - that has as much hope of getting attention as the petition on Asset Sales - zero.
So what is your next move? If no other councils in the Waikato Region are prepared to seek an alternative to the Buckley/Laing plan where do you turn - they may not like it, but they are being out-manouvered at every turn, and I am at a loss to see just how an alternative is to be devised, let alone get-up.
I am certainly not going to argue with any of your rationale for Coromandel et al. - I agree entirely, with the caveat above, but I await further information as to just how you propose this is to be achieved in the light of what we now know. It has to be practical, workable, supported, and most important have the political oomph to carry through.
I welcome any other participants in this conversation - the more the better, particularly if you have any ideas that you think can throw some more light on this dilemma.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill

By the way Geoffrey, I think the Wairarapa situation is rather different with the Rimutaka barrier for a start, and a far larger and wealthier population base - hardly compararble with us on our own, And I gained no impression last Wenesday that TCDC was "coming up with a better plan". Or do you know something we don't. Katina Cosomos would be the one working on it and she is fully engaged with the Annual Plan at the moment. I think Leach's words were "End of story", or similar, so what gives you the confidence that this is in train?

March 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

I think Dal concerns with respect to the make up and culture of District Councils is valid. I for one would despair at the possible results that the parochial parish pump politics the likes of Leach, Lux and Goudie would bring to environmental management. Territorials (and small Unitaries) are too prone to undue influence from the conservative political/business elite to be anything else than a means to facilitate their own narrow self interested agenda. Geoffery might want to be careful for what he wishes for.

The Bull in a China shop approach by Leach has earned a reputation as at best a colorful provocateur railing against "City Hall" but more accurately a bullying and edjit who should not be trusted with environmental governance concerns that has a legacy which span generations.

As for Geoffrey's assertion that the small Unitary Councils quoted have in fact looked after their ecosystems and environment is without any proof.

In any event it is my understanding of the situation is that there is simply no appetite at all at Central government level for a splitting of Council bodies and that the political mantra is that big is considered best. Regional scale CCO's for waste, water and roads gutting the core functions the Districts with a regional type co governance body looking after land and water management on a catchment type scale. The question is what is that scale?

Is a rump of a TCDC Council wrapped up in the cloak of a Unitary really able to undertake a wider role? How are those MoU's coming along with the Iwi and Hapu?

To date the current council seems incapable of providing a basic level of service even within the confines of its current statutory brief.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I have to acknowledge I don't know what all the fuss is about. Mayor Leach has twice made public comment on his failure to get a seconder for a motion at a forum which has no real power or authority but does give the member Mayors some clout to deal with the Regional Council. The Regional Council then has one group to ignore rather then a bunch of individuals. The idea of declaring TCDC as a Unitary Authority fits in with the plan to relocate the TCDC central office to Whitianga, where there are enough sections available to create a compact city, OK at the end of the long and winding road, with unreliable power, phone and internet, but when you have sections to sell, sell the sizzle. It is a nice place but it's a hard sell as a regional capital. Promising to progress the concept of a Unitary Authority and actually doing it are two politically different things. If were were really serious, and Geoffrey i know you are, we would have put together the plan and had it in Wellington by now. Going to the Mayoral Forum is campaigning with a wet cardboard box. TCDC could do it and will get through because no one else wants to be in a unitary authority with TCDC. It's not because they don't like Mayor Leach. Mayors come and go, and round here the mayor makers are ruthless. No one wants TCDC because our debt is at albatross level. The region has no industry, no mining,, no agriculture, some fishing, but more objectors per sq m to any of this than anywhere. Tourism is dominated by mom and pop motels, with a nationally publicised antipathy for anyone in a camper van. You only have to visit groups outside the region aged 45-74 [something I do to promote a regional event] to find out how we are regarded. Essentially you have the council agreement to progress to become a unitary authority, but you need to have the council take the appropriate steps which they are not doing.

The option to become a Unitary Authority [ which you say is overwhelmingly popular] can be put to the vote this election, and can be enacted almost immediately. So why aren't we going down that track?

Looks to me like Mayor Leach is slow playing the hand. "I went to the Mayoral Forum but got no where" is the kind of stuff we expect from Graeme Taylor.

The logic is simple

We have people who want us to become a Unitary Authority

How do we test the mood of all the people : Put it to a vote

If they say yes, how do we proceed: Tell Min of Local Government and do it.

We need to be quick before it is done for us.

Geoffrey, if you think the unitary authority will allow you to control 1080 and marine farming and other stuff you are 100% wrong. The Geppetto's who run this region are for all of that and mining as well, and unhampered by regional restrictions will ignore you. Dal is right on this point.

If council were sincere we would be 80% of the way there now. We have staff well capable of putting it together. Like flouride all it takes is a few locals with the right methodology.

It will be more expensive, and the current council have run the loan book up to it's new doubled limit Our nett gain from the current set up is between $2 and $5 M a year. That's only $100 per ratepayer per year and really probably well worth it for the independence, but it's not going to give you what you want.

The numbers are not in, but they are not hard to do:
How much do we pay regional now
What to we have to do and how much will it cost.
How much more do we have to charge.

As long as this is less then what we pay now the idea has leverage. Even break even is good.

The Te Puru scheme and the Mangroves have some liabilities that have to be sorted. We can cut a deal on these.

If you think for a moment it's a done deal I have some shares to sell you! There is no doubt it is possible, but the sideshows are distracting the audience.

You got acceptance of an idea, but failed to keep the hand on the throat, and like it or not that's the way things are done around here.


March 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Jeffares

A few thoughts in response to previous posts.

First and foremost, the question of local government reorganisation for Thames-Coromandel is about identifying the best structure to deliver policies, planning and decision-making that is appropriate to our district and the aspirations of its residents. It is about local accountability of elected officials. It is about making sure local rates dollars are applied for the benefit of our district -- for our economy, our environment, our programmes -- not those of special interests elsewhere. It has absolutely nothing to do with specific individuals or the current council or mayoralty and nothing to do with any specific issues. The question is whether this unique place and community will self-govern or whether it will be governed from Hamilton.

A second worry is care for the environment. If anything, the people of the Coromandel through their own locally elected and locally accountable officials can do as good a job of environmental stewardship as anyone. Waikato Regional Council said it all when it removed the word "Environment" from its name shortly after the last election. The a year ago, in the best indication of its priorities, WRC completely eliminated its Environment Committee -- no other committee has been touched. Shortly after, the council brushed aside a major staff report on potential environmental degradation from planned industrial aquaculture that their axed Environment Committee had aired. The focus of our regional government has shifted instead to economic development and implementation of central government business agenda items. What WRC does not want, is independent oversight of its economic agenda by a council committee whose prime concern is the environment. As for stewarding the Coromandel environment, I'll put my faith in a locally elected unitary council any day.

Regarding the ability of a small unitary council like Tasman District to do the environmental job, just look at the facts in its annual reports. Tasman Council undertakes a range of major activities including resource policy and planning, investigations and compliance, environmental education and advocacy, pest management and biosecurity. The council operates in accordance with legal requirements and the guidance of its community. Ratepayer satisfaction for all major environment and planning activities exceeds targets. A unitary Coromandel Council would be expected to do just as well.

As for Bill's question about where to from here... it would appear that TCDC is taking the appropriate first steps to investigate the feasibility of a unitary Coromandel Council by assembling relevant financial data. The Wairarapa Governance Review Working Party provides a good roadmap of what is required. The process there has been ongoing for about 18 months and has involved community consultation and two exhaustive independent reports on all aspects of the alternatives. TCDC probably needs to follow most of those same steps, although the experience of Wairarapa might yield some ideas for greater efficiency in the process. As for public support, more than 1,000 Coromandel residents have signed a petition seeking a unitary council, and that petition drive continues. (Wairarapa residents, when surveyed, also strongly supported the option of a small unitary council). But for now, the heavy lifting will be up to TCDC. If the first pass at the numbers looks reasonably close, then the next step would most likely be commissioning a comprehensive report similar to the Morrison Low report for Wairarapa. If a unitary council continues to look like a viable option, then TCDC would be able to put a proposal in front of the government.

Indications are that government wants unitary councils, but as few unitary councils as possible. So it will still be an uphill battle to get approval for a stand-alone unitary council for the Coromandel. Wairarapa, with all its community support and all the reports and a very reasonable proposal, is still fighting that fight. Entrenched business interests and Greater Wellington Regional Council want to sweep the Wairarapa into an all-region supercity unitary council sitting in Wellington. We can expect the same from Hamilton and WRC...count on it.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey Robinson

I am seeing a Unitary Authority based on local values and priorities. Just not Geoffrey Robinsons values though. More like Sandra Goudies or his worship Mayor Leach.

Build it, develop it, dam it, cut it, dig it and sell it.
No oversight from an overarching body like WRC or their successor.

Just get on with it and make this boat mover faster as the NActs would say.
This boat however might have difficulty navigating the harbours infilled with mine tailings.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Do we want to go the way of Auckland (Supercity) where amalgamation and ACT had its way without a mandate. Has there been a report showing the benefits of the 'bigger is better' system. How do the ratepayers feel it is going? i.e. the ones who consider L.G.? The ones who subsidise other's interests with their rates.

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H Wood,

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