The Wilde Debate!

Fran Wilde, chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council

Supercity amalgamation, yes or no, is still the question and it’s not much clearer after the discussion-cum-briefing-cum-question and answer meeting held at the Otaki Golf Club in late February.

The meeting, organised by the Otaki Village Promotions Group, showcased Kapiti Coast District councillor, K Gurunathan and Fran Wilde, chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council. They were charged with explaining their views on the proposed Wellington regional amalgamation and to answer questions from the floor. They had 15 minutes to put their opinions, and then the audience members had two minutes to put their views and questions.

K Gurunathan
District councillor, K Gurunathan

Amalgamation as promoted by the regional council, and supported by the Local Government Commission would see the Wellington Regional council and the eight district councils replaced by one greater unitary council with one mayor, elected by voters throughout the whole region, and 21 councillors elected by wards within the current eight council boundaries. It would be responsible for the “high-level” matters affecting the whole region. The eight local boards, within the large council area would see all of Kapiti as local board. Otaki will have two representatives on this local board and it would be responsible for decisions affecting local communities. Overall the proposed supercouncil and local boards would have 82 representatives against the current 161 elected members. There would be appointed local committees instead of the present community boards.

“What’s in it for Otaki?” Mr Gurunathan began, as he outlined his opinions. “The big picture is global organisation — how does New Zealand fit into this global organisation. The (government) mantra seems to be what’s good for Auckland is good for New Zealand! Auckland has a population of 1.4 million, Greater Wellington 500,000, Otaki’s population 5500. Auckland is a big black hole sucking up all resources. With forced amalgamation, Wellington (city) will be a mini black hole sucking up our resources”

Winding up his 15 minutes with the Tui like advertisement … “what’s in it for Otaki? Cheap regular transport to Wellington, — Yeah right! With forced amalgamation we would have Wellington a mini black hole sucking up Kapiti’s resources.”

He noted the early estimated cost of amalgamation was $184 million dollars and this has already blown out to $210 million dollars. “I’m not convinced” he said of the proposed benefits for Otaki.
“We don’t want to be like Auckland. Wellington is very different from Auckland; it has a third of the population.” Pro-amalgamation’s Ms Wilde, said. “A supercity is not what we’re talking about but how can we manage ourselves better for the next 20 to 30 years. We need to make significant changes — regional rather than local, with strong linkages throughout the region.”

When asking, rhetorically, about coping with debt, she noted Kapiti Coast population is forecast to grow by 20,000 or more after Transmission Gully opens. Currently Kapiti and Masterton have the highest debt levels in the region, she said.

On questions about how rates would be levied, she said there would be one lot of rates levied, by the regional council in “consultation” with local bodies. All the (local) boards would see are area budgets and there would be a pool of discretionary funds.

“Community board grants would still be available, there has been no decision to remove funding, a government order,” she said. “A benefit for Otaki would be the water storage reservoir would then be funded from the regional board, not locally. The wider benefit is in paying for future needs and infrastructure. Isn’t it better (if) you’re part of a bigger unit? It’s not about saving money, it’s about efficiencies.” The reservoir has been kept in Kāpiti’s draft annual plan but deferred for two years.

In response to questions around transport delivery, Ms Wilde said there would not be a council controlled organisation (CCO) for public transport. The local government commission doesn’t recommend a CCO; rather it recommends transport be run by the (regional) council.
Regarding the Capital Connection and rail services, she said it would not be financially viable to electrify the rail line from Waikanae north – instead have Matangi diesel built to travel straight out of Wellington and as far north as needed — even Palmerston North.

But Mr Gurunathan said all that was needed was a diesel travelling up and down from Waikanae to Otaki.

Many people have concerns about Kapiti’s water metres and fears of the water system being privatised even though KCDC has promised it wouldn’t, Ms Wilde assured the meeting “it is against the law to privatise water.”

Other questions were asked around rates and how these would be funded, particularly as Kapiti is the only council using land value over capital value for apportioning rates. “Most councils have capital values, it’s probably going to happen anyway,” said one member of the community.
Ian Carson, chair of the OVPG, stated that we have a strong and active community board here and a great councillor in Penny Gaylor. “How do you see the Otaki local committee against the Otaki Community Board we have now?” he asked.

“The local committee will be appointed not elected,” Ms Wilde responded. They would be given some “decent delegations and work to do.”

Final points were asked about the possibility of a referendum, or poll, when the local Government Commission issues its final proposal and would a referendum be binding. A referendum would be held if 10 per cent of voters in any affected council area sign a petition requesting one. This vote would be held across the whole region and would be binding.

At the close of the meeting people were left with no more positive vision of one amalgamated region, covering Kapiti, Porirua, Wellington city, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa, than the current regional council and eight councils, other than a greatly reduced number of councillors and community board members.

The submission period for ratepayer views on the proposed an amalgamated region closed on March 2 and the Local Government Commission will hold public hearing of the submissions before making its final decision.

Margaret Andrews