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Re-thinking Auckland – the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance

18 March 2008

Auckland should be “a successful world-class city” with “a sustainable and prosperous future”. These are fine aspirations, but how do we get there? The recently appointed Royal Commission on Auckland Governance has been given a broad mandate to answer that question, and the Commission, in turn, is now seeking input from the public.

In this Counsel we look at the current inquiry into Auckland’s governance, what it might mean for those carrying on business in the Auckland region and how you can get involved.

Greater Auckland has a population of more than 1.3 million people, with that number expected to reach 2 million by 2050. It is currently governed by one regional council, four city councils, three district councils, and 30 community boards, plus various other agencies such as the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) and the seven different water retailers in the region. With 261 elected politicians (which compares with 120 MPs in parliament) it is, perhaps, no surprise that critics consider that this governance structure has resulted in unnecessary bureaucracy, duplication, high and inconsistent rates bills, and problems in getting agreement on key infrastructure projects.

A recent high-profile example was the Eden Park versus Waterfront Stadium debate, where local, regional and central government debated publicly and at length, about the best option for hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2011. Questions of timing, funding and planning for this regionally and nationally significant infrastructure continue to be vexed.

Criticism of Auckland’s governance has been the subject of at least two recent campaigns – one led by former Local Government Commission chairman and public body consultant Grant Kirby, promoting a One Auckland Plan, the other the Fix Auckland campaign lead by the chief executive of the Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association. Discussions between Auckland councils have also in recent years promoted a Greater Auckland Council, a “One Plan” and various other means of adapting governance for the Auckland region.

Establishment of the Commission on Auckland Governance

In this climate of flux as to the adequacy of the current model of governance, in July 2007, the Government announced its intention to set up the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance (Commission). The Commission was established on 29 October 2007, with a $5.5 million budget.

Its mission, as set out in the Terms of Reference, is to investigate and report to the Government on the local government arrangements that are required in the Auckland region over the foreseeable future in order to maximise the current and future well-being of the region and its communities, and the region’s contribution to wider national objectives and outcomes. The Commission is due to report to the Government by 1 December 2008.

The Commission is chaired by the Honourable Peter Salmon QC, a retired High Court judge, with extensive experience in local government, environmental and resource management law. The other members are Dame Margaret Bazley, who, among various other public service roles, served as Commissioner for the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, and David Shand, who has worked for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and OECD. He also chaired the recent Local Government Rates Inquiry.

Key political, community and business interest groups have welcomed the membership and Terms of Reference for the Commission. With support from both the Labour and National parties, it seems likely that, informed by the outcome of the Commission’s findings, changes to Auckland’s governance will be implemented in the future, regardless of whether there is a Labour or National-led government going into 2009.

Commission’s Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference for the Commission, set on 29 October 2007, are broad. The introductory section of the Terms of Reference notes the following:

…over the next 100 years, the Auckland region will face enormous change brought about by global economic, environmental, and political forces. Local trends, including high population growth, add to the challenges and opportunities for the region. Auckland has to compete in a global market place to sell its goods and services and to attract the talented people it requires to secure a sustainable and prosperous future:

The Terms of Reference allow the Commission “to receive representations on, inquire into, investigate, and report on the local government arrangements (including institutions, mechanisms, and processes)” that are required to maximise, in a cost-effective manner:

  • the current and future well-being of the Auckland region and its communities, and
  • the region’s contributions to wider national objectives and outcomes.

Further, there are a number of relevant matters that the Commission may investigate and receive representations on, which are as follows:

  • what changes to current legislation are considered desirable to achieve or support the achievement of the inquiry’s objectives
  • what changes to the boundary of the Auckland region, or to the collaborative arrangements or mechanisms involving other regions across New Zealand are considered desirable to achieve the inquiry’s objectives
  • what is required for effective relationships and collaborative arrangements between central and local government
  • what ownership, governance and institutional arrangements and funding responsibilities are required to ensure the effective, efficient and sustainable provision of public infrastructure, services and facilities to support and enhance:
    • the current and future well-being of Auckland region and its communities;
    • its performance as a growth engine in the New Zealand economy and its role as a key transport hub for New Zealand and the Pacific region;
    • the ability of Auckland region to compete internationally as a desirable place to live, work, invest and do business; and
    • the ability of Auckland region to respond to economic, environmental, cultural, and social challenges (e.g. climate change), and
  • what governance and representation arrangements will best:
    • enable effective responses to the different communities of interest and reflect the cultural diversity within the region, and
    • provide leadership, while facilitating appropriate participation by citizens, other groups and stakeholders in decision-making processes.

The Commission is required under the Terms of Reference to take into account the implications of the findings of the recent Independent Inquiry into Local Government Rates.

The Commission’s “Call for Submissions”

The Commission is required by its Terms of Reference to undertake wide public consultation and adopt procedures that will encourage people to express their views. In this regard, Hon Peter Salmon QC stated recently:

The success of this inquiry depends on getting the widest feedback possible from all of our diverse communities and people from every walk of life.1

On 5 March 2008, the Commission issued a discussion paper entitled “Call for Submissions”.2 It identifies particular issues that the Commission’s inquiry will focus on and poses a number of questions which provide the public with some focus for submissions:

What kind of local government arrangements will help Auckland become a successful world-class city?
What decisions should be made and implemented at a regional level? By what body or bodies or processes should these decisions be made?
What decisions should be made and implemented at a local level? By what body or bodies or processes should these decisions be made?
To what extent should individual local councils follow consistent practices? How do we ensure that decisions made at national, regional, and local government levels are consistent with each other, and that they lead in the same direction?
How do we ensure that whatever form of local government is adopted remains properly accountable to the people of Auckland?

In its discussion paper, the Commission explores each issue further, raising a number of sub-issues on which it seeks public input. The issues raised are broad and we don’t intend to try to summarise them all here – everyone living or carrying out business in the Auckland region will be affected in a slightly different way. However there are some key issues that are likely to have a significant impact on the way Auckland is managed, and which, in turn, may have national implications.

One suggestion is that there may be a “super council” controlling all regional and local issues. This is described as being one end of the spectrum with the former system of a large number of smaller councils being at the other end. The “super council” idea seems more in keeping with (though not identical to) suggestions being floated by various bodies promoting a more centralised governance system for Auckland.

The Commission also floats the idea that the super council might be led by an elected mayor (contrasting with the current approach in Auckland Regional Council whereby the chair is elected by members of the ARC). That mayor might then have significant executive powers, independent of the council, in order to exercise regional leadership.

A further change being considered that could have a considerable impact is the possibility of confining the Auckland region to only urban and future urban areas. Rural areas, including parts of Rodney, Franklin and Manukau, might, the Commission suggests, be better served by being part of a different regional council. This would leave the Auckland council – in whatever form – to focus solely on urban issues.

The Commission also observes that there has been criticism of inconsistent approaches between local councils on delivery of services and application of regulations. Those of you who have been involved in getting approval for projects that require consents from ARC and (sometimes multiple) district or city councils will appreciate the Commission’s observation that such duplication can sometimes result in significant challenges in terms of costs and timing. It is looking for submissions on how such matters might be managed by aligning or amalgamating council practices.

The provision of water services is an area the Commission may look at restructuring. The Commission identifies that there are differences of opinion as to how water services should be managed, particularly whether they need to be managed on a regional basis. There is currently one bulk supplier of water and waste-water services in Auckland (Watercare). Each of the seven local councils provides retail water and waste-water services in its district, either directly, through a council-controlled organisation or through a franchise agreement. Each council is also responsible for provision of stormwater services. Finally, ARC regulates water quality and coastal management for the Auckland region. Any restructuring could involve considerable upheaval for those involved in providing water services, and there will no doubt be a number of important issues that could be highlighted in submissions on this issue.

The provision of roading is another area likely to be a hot topic for submissions. The Commission highlights “infrastructure decisions relating to road, rail and public transport such as a possible second harbour crossing” as one of the important issues facing Auckland in the near future. While the Commission is clearly not empowered to make any decisions on the actual provision of such infrastructure, the decision-making structures and processes could profoundly affect the way roading, and other transport, is able to be delivered.

A final observation to note is that the Commission has flagged its willingness to consider whether current governance involves too much emphasis on public consultation. It acknowledges that there is debate about whether full public participation – on such matters as long-term council community plans, district plans and resource consents – always improves decision-making. The Commission suggests for instance that, for the more technical services, such as water supply, waste water and roading, it may be sufficient for the public to be informed of what is going to happen, rather than needing extensive consultation on whether it should happen.

Having your say

The changes noted in this Counsel are only a small number of the potentially significant changes that will be considered by the Commission before it makes its report on 1 December 2008. The governance systems set up as a result of this enquiry may have a major impact on how important matters – such as the extent of the metropolitan urban limits, and what new infrastructure Auckland needs – are decided. Making a submission will be your opportunity to influence the way Auckland will be governed for the foreseeable future.

Written submissions need to be lodged with the Commission by 4pm on 22 April 2008. The Commission specifically notes that while it is open to hearing opinions, it is keen for those opinions to be backed up by facts. It is looking for submitters to suggest ways to solve problems not just to identify them. Submissions need not be restricted to these questions, provided they fall within the scope of the Commission’s Terms of Reference.

Chapman Tripp can assist you by helping to identify those issues that are particularly relevant to you or your business and advising on the most effective way to communicate your position in submissions.

Once submissions close in April 2008, the Commission is planning on holding a number of public hearings in the Auckland region. At this stage, these are scheduled for the first three weeks of May and in June 2008.

All submitters have a right to be heard. Submitters should indicate whether they wish to be heard on their submissions. Once again, Chapman Tripp is happy to assist clients with the preparation of oral submissions and appearances at the hearing.

The Commission has set up a website which contains information regarding the inquiry (www.royalcommission.govt.nz). The “Call for Submissions” can also be accessed on that website, or we can provide you with a copy on request.

The One Plan

Even though the future structure of Auckland’s local government hangs in the balance, the ARC is continuing to work with the other Auckland councils and central government to strengthen its regional governance, with the development of an omnibus type plan, known as the One Plan.

In September 2007, a new collaborative political forum – the Regional Sustainable Development Forum (RSDF) was established as a standing committee of the ARC. The RSDF comprises representatives from central, regional local government and tangata whenua and its purpose is to promote integrated decision-making and planning for the future of the Auckland region.

The purpose of the One Plan is to provide a detailed infrastructure plan to strengthen the links between national and regional strategy and planning. Initially, the One Plan will contain a set of strategic directions, a prioritised set of regionally significant programmes (1-5 years) and prescribe a process for developing a longer-term programme (5-20 years).

The RSDF met most recently on 22 February 2008 and agreed to continue drafting the One Plan for Auckland. The first draft is to be presented to the RSDF by May 2008. Individual councils will then consider this, and a final version of the draft will be presented to the RSDF by September 2008. At this stage, full public consultation is programmed to be undertaken by the Auckland councils in March/April 2009, using existing Long Term Council Community Plan processes.

Work on the One Plan continues, despite the Commission’s independent inquiry. The ARC website states that the lessons learned in developing the One Plan will provide valuable insights for consideration by the Commission. It would appear that the ARC is keen to be seen working with the other councils and central government in the hope that its role can be strengthened, and that the Commission takes notice of this work.

The London model

There are a number of overseas cities that Auckland might look to when considering models for stronger regional governance. One of these, referred to in the “Call for Submissions”, is London. Like Auckland, it was accepted by central government in Britain that London was distinct from the rest of the country and required greater strategic direction and accountability.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) was established in 2000 and is made up of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly. The GLA is essentially a form of strategic, citywide government for London.

The Mayor of London is the executive arm of the GLA, and leads the preparation of London-wide statutory strategies and plans on transport, spatial development, economic development and the environment. The mayor sets budgets for agencies under his or her control such as Transport for London, and the London Development Agency.

The London Assembly is made up of 25 elected representatives who scrutinise the mayor’s decisions, providing essential checks and balances on the mayor’s powers. In addition, the Assembly is able to investigate other issues of importance to Londoners, publish its findings and make recommendations to the mayor.

At a local level, the 32 borough councils remain in place to represent Londoners’ local needs and views and to continue providing public services.

Among other things, the mayor is a statutory consultee for planning applications which are strategically important to London. The mayor is able to comment on these applications and, if he or she considers it appropriate on strategic grounds, direct the London borough to refuse planning permission. The mayor has introduced a congestion charge scheme for central London, and is currently introducing a “low emission zone” to improve air quality.

Footnotes

  1. Royal Commission of Inquiry into Auckland Governance media release “Royal Commission meets with Auckland councils” (23 January 2008).
  2. “Call for Submissions” Royal Commission on Auckland Governance (March 2008). A copy of this can be obtained as a PDF from the homepage Commission website: www.royalcommission.govt.nz

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