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Opinion - Reforming local government in Northland

From Graeme Ramsey

Local Government reform for Northland is well and truly on the cards. The Far North District Council has formally applied to the Local Government Commission to become a unitary authority. In response the Commission has recognised both Kaipara and Whangarei districts are effected parties to this proposal, not just the Far North. This effectively means that the future of local government for all of Northland will be considered.

The first thing the Commission must do is satisfy itself that there is demonstrable community support for reform in Northland. This does not mean that people necessarily accept the Far North proposal. The Commission will seek other ideas.

There are other alternatives. It is time for us to consider what will work best for us.  This needs to be considered on:

  • What can provide improved efficiency and fiscal management.
  • What similar communities should we be joined with or not joined with.
  • How will we get a unified voice for Northland issues instead of the competing voices we have had for many years.
  • Given that there will be no government handouts, what arrangements will be made for the debt that all Northland district councils have.
  • What will become of the assets and cash of the Northland Regional Council and how will these be distributed.

There are some obvious options. Staying with the status quo is the first. Mangawhai joining in an expanded Whangarei council with the western rural parts of Kaipara joining an expanded Far North council is another that has been put forward.

There are more. One authority for Northland with local boards representing communities of interest could address many of the issues above. The NRC proposed ward changes as a template for how this might work.  

Uniquely Mangawhai has one further consideration. The northern boundary of the Auckland super city is only five miles to the south of Mangawhai. Joining Auckland could be a proposal the Commission would consider.  

Once the Commission has considered all of the proposals made it will decide on a preferred option and prepare a draft proposal for notifications and for submissions. 

The exact timetable is to be determined but this year represents the first time since 1989 that local government reform for Northland is seriously being addressed. 

It is time for us all to consider what is in the best interests of our community and the region. 

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