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.