Councillor Gwynn Compton has written to parties from across Parliament calling on them to work together to establish a Royal Commission on Local Government in order to overhaul the sector so it is fit for purpose as it struggles to deal with numerous challenges that it is not adequately equipped to address.
“Our current local government arrangements were put in place more than 40 years ago. From looking around the country, it’s clear the system isn’t coping with the numerous and significant challenges facing the sector such as accommodating rapid population growth, making up for decades of underinvestment in infrastructure, dealing with massive reforms of both the Three Waters and Resource Management Act, playing its part in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” says Cr Compton.
While Cr Compton’s call for a Royal Commission represents his own personal view and not that of Kāpiti Coast District Council, he says he’s aware of significant support for reform from both elected members and the communities they serve across New Zealand.
“It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the structure and financing of local government isn’t a good fit for the challenges it now finds itself facing. For example, its heavy dependence on property rates to fund the services and community facilities it provides has been shown to be politically and financially unsustainable in the long-term, with councils around New Zealand now under enormous pressure with the shortcomings of that dependency coming home to roost.
“Likewise, with central government infrastructure projects like Transmission Gully set to bring Kāpiti, Porirua, the Hutt Valley, and Wellington closer together than ever before, decisions that take place in one territorial authority are going to have direct impacts on communities outside its existing borders. The current response to this, of implementing even more bureaucracy on top of existing territorial authorities through various forums and joint committees, is confusing and only serves to further distance decision making and accountability from communities.”
Cr Compton’s call for a Royal Commission envisages its terms of reference covering the role, structure, and financing of local government, ensuring a consistent approach to Māori wards and iwi participation across the country, and reviewing the role of the Local Government Commission.
“Change on this scale is politically difficult and can be understandably daunting for the communities involved. This is why following the Royal Commission approach, which laid the groundwork for successful change in Auckland and gave the process the necessary independence and trust needed to proceed, should be used over that of the Local Government Commission’s failed Wellington region proposal.”