8 Feb 2017

'No public support' for Otago amalgamation review

8:24 pm on 8 February 2017

The Otago Regional Council has rejected the idea of kick-starting a review of local council structures.

Otago Regional Council meeting

Today's Otago Regional Council meeting debated the merits of merging with the city council. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Councillor Michael Laws unsuccessfully put a motion proposing the review to a council committee meeting in Dunedin this afternoon.

The debate was triggered by the Dunedin City Council commissioning a report on the merits of becoming a unitary council, and merging its operations with the regional council.

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Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Mr Laws said the Local Government Commission was activist in seeking amalgamations, and the region should front-foot a review so that Otago decided its own future.

Mr Laws found support from several other regional councillors including Michael Deaker, who said it was time the structures be held up for inspection again, and Otago should consider merging with the Southland Regional Council.

Mr Deaker disagreed with Mr Laws' criticism that the Regional Council was useless, but said a review was a good idea.

Councillor Maggie Lawton said there were gaps between the regional and local councils, especially on freshwater management, that needed to be plugged.

Others said Otago's councils worked together better than ever and the idea was an unnecessary distraction without public support.

Chairman Stephen Woodhead said Otago's mayors met for two days this week and they had no interest in a regional review.

"There is no appetite to engage in a regional review. I put some draft words in the form of a recommendation that we work together as Otago, and the answer was a blunt 'no'," Mr Woodhead said.

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Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Councillor Bryan Scott said the regional council was 10 percent of the size of the combined Otago territorial authorities, and complemented, rather than duplicated, their work.

Councillor Gretchen Robertson said a review could go on for years, increase bureaucracy and distract from more important matters.

The motion was put and defeated.

Afterwards Mr Laws warned "the genie of Otago amalgamations is out of the bottle", and the Regional Council might come to rue taking a wait-and-see approach.

The Dunedin City Council's report is expected at the end of next month.