31 July 2007

Structure of Local Government

> NZHerald: "Commission to look into who runs Auckland" I'm pleased to see the government has arranged for an independent review of the local governance issues in Auckland. Quite frankly, the area is under significant growth pressure and its local governance agencies have had dysfunctional relationships for some time. As for the Royal Commission concept, the cynics might say that it's a ploy to neuter the current One Auckland debate. I suspect the government is nervous about this concept - because it would compete with the Beehive in terms of political power. Labour could never have unilaterally said no to the idea though - they would have been labelled anti-Auckland. The Royal Commission avoids this and defers the substantive issue beyond the local body and national elections. Personally though, I think the Royal Commission move demonstrates the government's commitment to local government. They do truly believe in the importance of local government - which should be commended. It allows for grass-roots democracy - participation at a local level and the experimentation with local solutions. The previous local government reforms enhanced this and emphasised local government's general well-being powers. Sub-national government in this form is really New Zealand's form of federalism. On the substantive question, I don't know if I have a particular view about the Auckland issues. But for some time I've wondered whether the structure of local government has suffered from historical anomalies and is too fragmented for their present functions. My tentative suggestion is that we consider merging some local authorities. The present structure of local government is as follows:

My tentative structure is as follows: Key points:

- The merger of local authorities allows the regional council functions to be merged, similar to the couple of unitary authorities we have now. The split of functions doesn't really make sense, complicates the governance questions and leads to intra-local authority in-fighting.

- Few local authorities, defined more around contemporary communities of interest. Eg, Greater Wellington, Taranaki, etc. Someone once suggested to me the present DHB boundaries would make some sense.

- Bigger local authorities. This would allow the administration to harmonise and consolidate their work. No need to re-invent the wheel on the regulation of prostitution across the Auckland region. Or for different frameworks for regulation of the RMA.

- But bigger local authorities need smaller access points for public participation. Community boards are presently optional but I think any move to merge local authorities requires compulsory and universal community boards. That is, each local authority district must have community boards covering the entire district. Here, we can insist on smaller communities of interest. Eg, in a Greater Auckland model (say) Papakura District would be represented by the Papakura Community Boards. The former Wellington City within Greater Wellington might be split into two or three, ie Southern, Central, and Northern Wellington.

And most significantly, these Boards would need to have automatic responsibilities (presently their role depends on the authority and funding given to them by their parent local authority). I suggest they have standing delegations to hear "local" resource consents and a budget for "local" projects; other matters would continue to be dealt with at the local authority level. This allows the local community to make decisions about local matters such as town centre development, local parks, local developments, but ensures that matters with broader implications or needing greater strategic expertise (regional planning or infrastructure) is done at a higher level.

Now none of this is specific to Auckland - but it might be that the examination of these issues in Auckland could trigger some reflection on these issues across the country.


Graeme Edgeler said...

Having separate Capital & Coast and Hutt DHBs never made much sense to me. And you'd probably still want a separate Chatham one etc. But the idea makes some sense - just don't have them elected "at large" DHB-style.

Anonymous said...

Instead of the DHB boundaries you could use the LTNZ boundaries. There are currently 12:
Gisborne/Hawke's Bay
West Coast
These are very close to the original Provincial Councils with Auckland divided into four regions. The Provincial Councils were subdivided into municipal councils and district roads boards.
So what you are proposing is a re-establishment of the original form of government introduced by the Constitution Act but with a recognition of the physical merger of most of the original boroughs.
It seems that within a quarter of a century of Parliament replacing this simple structure with hundreds of tiny counties they had become feifdoms that fought tooth and nail against being merged.
From the 1920s to the 1950s the Main Highways Board was able to get co-ordination on road works by establishing 20 District Highways Boards. From 1954 these Highways Boards became Regional Planning Authorities but unfortunaely the only part of their planning that had any real meaning was improvements to State Highways as these were under the control of the MHB's successor, the National Roads Board. Both of these boards were statutorily independent of both central and local government so they were never mired down in petty politics, which meant they actually got things done.
Of course, the fact that they could decide where motorways would be built but could not dictate sensible land zoning to get the best out of these motorways meant most of the congestion reducing benefits that could have followed from motorway construction have simply not occured.

Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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