The Northland Regional Council is planning a major fact-finding exercise next year to see what form Northlanders think local government in the region should take – and says it will reserve its collective judgement until those views are known.
With the passing early this month of the first of a series of planned changes to the Local Government Act, the regional council yesterday agreed the time had now come to act on potential reform.
Kathryn Ross, the regional council’s General Manager Planning and Policy, says while there had been calls earlier this year from some – including the Far North District Council – for reform, the regional council had been reluctant to enter the debate until the Local Government Act changes had occurred.
In an extensive 120-plus page agenda item tabled at yesterday’s meeting, Ms Ross says with that law change, “it is time to ensure that any proposals for change are community driven”.
She says while during previous debates on potential reform in Northland the regional council had advocated positions and favoured structures that provide a ‘whole of Northland’ approach, it currently “does not have a predetermined outcome in mind”.
“Council now has - and wants to take – the opportunity to engage with individuals and communities of interest within the region to inform, engage and identify an optimal model of local governance for Northland that would have community support.”
While not all councillors agreed, a majority yesterday voted for a staff recommendation outlining a proposed community engagement model. It involves an independently facilitated process, supported by internal staff resources, and includes citizen’s panels, surveys, an open door approach, workshops and other forms of direct public involvement.
The initial estimated $60,000 to $100,000 cost of the work had not been budgeted for, but firmed up costings – and how they could be paid for - would be addressed in a more detailed engagement plan to be presented to the council in February.
Ms Ross says staff had recommended not beginning the consultation process in earnest until February to allow the preparation of the raft of background and other material required. It would also mean most Northland residents and ratepayers would be back from their holidays.
“We need to take local government back to our local communities,” regional council Chairman Craig Brown says. “Any decisions on how it should be should come from them; it’s easy to presume you know best, but this is meant to be about community involvement and community governance.”