18 Apr 2016

'Loophole' to reopen super city debate

5:56 pm on 18 April 2016

Less than six years into the life of the country's biggest local body, Aucklanders are being asked for new ideas on the way the city is governed.

The Local Government Commission has been required by legislation to make the move, deciding debate on a breakaway move by Auckland's rural north needs to be widened because it would affect the entire region.

A bird's eye view of Auckland (2016)

Auckland Photo: 123RF

Aucklanders will be given just 40 days starting from the middle of this week to propose alternatives to the current structure of Auckland Council, which was established in late 2010 and faces elections in six months.

The decision to throw open the debate spun out of a move by the city's northernmost rural community to attempt to break away and form a North Rodney Council.

The commission decided that would affect all of Auckland, and the law required all Aucklanders to be consulted on how they thought the city should be run.

Read the full decision by the Local Government Commission (PDF, 100KB)

Mayor Len Brown said the debate was unhelpful and due to a gap in legislation. He hoped that either the commission or the government would reject it.

Auckland mayor Len Brown at the gathering of graffiti agencies in Auckland.

Auckland mayor Len Brown said the move was due to a "contrary" loophole in the legislation. Photo: RNZ/Kim Baker Wilson

"It's completely contrary to the super city legislation," he said.

"If you're going to set it up to fail by leaving a loophole, that any aggrieved community around Auckland can jump through and open up a Pandora's box for a whole range of other applications, then what was the point of going through the change?"

The commission said there was demonstrable support in Auckland for local body reorganisation. That included a telephone poll of 237 residents, and what the commission called media reports suggesting some level of discontent.

Bill Townson of the Northern Action Group, which is leading the breakaway move, said part of its evidence was a survey of dozens of ratepayer groups, mostly in Auckland's eastern areas.

"You know, whether you can argue that individuals were canvassed or not, I don't think they were, but certainly the ratepayer groups would have a pretty good feel of how their constituents feel about being in Auckland," he said.

Bill Townson chairs the Northern Action Group which wants to break away from Auckland.

Bill Townson chairs the Northern Action Group, which wants to break away from Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Todd Niall

However, the prospects of any real change seem remote. The government has proposed new ways of deciding local government reorganisation, and the law could change before the Auckland debate is concluded.

Local Government Commission chair Sir Wira Gardiner said there were elements of the current law which made it "an ass".

"If there was a way that we could perhaps pause and wait till the new legislation could come through. If that was going to happen then that might be sensible but right now we don't have that option, we just have to pursue the law as it is," he said.

Whether or not the current law is fit for purpose, Aucklanders will be able to float new ideas on how the city is run until the end of June - and, if the commission finds merit in their arguments, the process could run for years.

Local Government Minister Sam Lotu-Iinga has hinted that a possible change to the reform process could allow other options than the proposed breakaway, for areas like North Rodney.

The 40-day countdown to propose new ways to run Auckland is expected to begin on Wednesday.

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