Back in the late 1980s the then Local Government Minister Michael Bassett instituted a major local government restructuring which with a couple of exceptions, gained justified public support.

Specifically, he amalgamated the numerous small Councils which had evolved over the years, into larger and hopefully cheaper and more practical bodies.

As said the underlying logic was obvious and accepted. The two exceptions were Devonport in Auckland and Eastbourne in Wellington. Both were up-market sea-side communities whose inhabitants did not wish to be buried into a larger administrative body, even if this meant lower rates. At the time I felt, and still do, that they should have been left alone and no harm would have occurred.

But here’s a thought. Was it a mistake to amalgamate the then seven local government entities in Auckland into a single council? For example, plainly the North Shore has its own peculiarities and issues that would justify “self-government”. So too South and West Auckland.

The current governance structure endeavours to acknowledge that reality by having 21 elected local Boards whose focus is supposedly on local issues. The problem with that however, is their individual authority to make significant decisions still lies with the greater City Council.

Auckland is a large sprawling city. It resembles Glasgow in size, area and population. But if you look up Glasgow’s population you will read it’s circa 750,000. In fact greater Glasgow like Auckland, has almost 2 million people but is administered by different, but not excessively so local governments.

Or closer to home, Sydney, albeit much larger, is subdivided into numerous local government entities which are generally accepted by the public. So too New York and numerous other cities.

One unscientific indication of dissatisfaction is the regular change of mayors in the Queen city, presumably reflecting the inhabitants dissatisfaction. Compare that with many provincial and smaller cities in which the mayors and Councils seemingly receive a decent multi-term crack at the job.

Off-setting that argument is the capital which also has suffered a series of one-term, screaming no-hoper mayors since Kerry Prendergast departed, yet there’s no evident desire to chop Wellington into more local government entities, indeed it was pretty much left alone by the Bassett reforms, probably because it’s so much smaller than sprawling Auckland.

As said, the merits of those reforms were widely accepted at the time but I sense Auckland might receive better, cheaper, more hands-on governance were it broken up into say four entities, being South, West, North and Central Auckland, each with their own councils and mayors.

One suspects they’d be less susceptible to hare-brain expenditures which are certainly a feature of the Wellington Council, more so if deemed sufficiently trendy.

That raises another issue, namely the need to clearly prescribe the role and limitations of local government. The Lower Hutt City Council for example, has a disastrous recent years history of costly commercial adventuring. This outcome is understandable given the totally non-descript series of mayors and councillors, not one in my memory over the past half century having any background accomplishments under his or her belt. Such is the price of democracy.


Spot on. And the current Lower Hutt mayor is only there because he didn’t get the Labour party nomination for the Hutt South electorate

One could argue Switzerland has the most successful democracy, based on relatively small local authority represented by one suspects successful locals ..

The problem with the last five decades of centralization is it takes power away from the people, moving it to big business who care not for the local community…..

Big business running the show is clearly not working; but only for the politicians…who most of us know aren’t capable of doing the job they are employed to do..

Just how you wrestle away the power from these useless politicians is the biggest challenge facing democracy….and I fear only bankruptcy will sort this…

Contrast Hutt City with Upper Hutt City – and the impact of competent leadership and governance couldn’t be more obvious. Upper Hutt is also now one of the tidiest cities in the country. Well done Wayne.
Similarly Invercargill (although confirming Enoch Powell’s comment on political careers) enjoyed considerable improvement under Shadbolt’s sometimes bold initiatives, especially ‘no fees’ to attract youth, vigour and ‘loose’ change. Spectacularly successfully.

Wish we could go back to those days. It was possible to turn up and chat direct to the planners or other Council officers and get prompt and sensible answers from people who knew what they were talking about. There was of course the ARC with some overarching powers to keep an eye on more regional issues. Now we have a behemoth, inefficient, expensive and loaded with useless bureaucrats who contract out anything that actually needs doing.at ever increasing cost.

    I fully agree with your comments David plus Sir Bobs suggestion of changing Auckland back to North South East West get rid of the bureaucratic monster. As david said one could chat direct with planners or other council officers who accepted responsibility held up there hand whereas today no one in A/Council accepts liability & take 20 days every time one enquires. My father got his plans & specifications for 7 shops submitted to Onehunga Borough Council when it was passed in house & returned within a month. Today allow 18 months to two years before approval plus horrendous dreamed up costs.

A different spin. When our four towns were bundled into Tararua District, ‘All The Monies’ from the four local councils were ‘centralised’ to Dannevirke, the northernmost and largest town. Suddenly, our houses were devalued. My place lost one fifth of its value, which affected many decisions in our lives at the time. Then Dannevirke got a brand new all year covered swimming complex, new parks, new council vehicles, and their main street was paved in expensive imported tiles, a huge main-street upgrade that included handrails and pedestrian crossings. Woodville, Pahiatua and Eketahuna had nothing spent on them for decades. Complete misuse of funds as Pahiatua was by far the wealthiest council in the area. So, Bassetts’ decision was not universally popular. I agree with Devonport and Eastbourne.

Amalgamating Auckland seemed a good idea at the time. It doesn’t seem so now, so perhaps your 4 entity plan would be better. Or turn the Community Boards into something meaningful.

There are no economies of scale in local government, the smaller the better, Eastbourne being the perfect example, when it existed. The amalgamation of the seven councils in Auckland has been an unmitigated disaster, costs have soared & the service provided in every department has declined, reverting back to four councils as suggested would be a very good start.

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