Wellington’s Big Projects Stalled!
Why aren’t we who live in the Wellington region getting our share of big public projects? One major reason for this dearth is the sadly fractionated state of our local government. We need to pull together and operate as a single region rather than a loose collection of feuding duchies.
Following the recent creation of Auckland Super City it seemed predictable that something similar would be proposed for our Wellington region where we have a population of 474,000 and nine local government councils. This ratio seems absurd and is even greater than the pre-amalgamation situation in Auckland where there were fewer councils serving a population at least three times the size.
While there is no real progress without change, our local public are divided in their views about the wisdom of a Wellington Super City. There are plenty of local Super City sceptics who have their eye firmly on local mini-opportunities, not larger regional development projects, but I argue here that the Wellington Super City proposition has great merit.
Most importantly, our Wellington region needs a stronger local government to keep up nationally and internationally if it is to succeed. In particular, we need to adopt the Wellington Super City proposal. Currently, we have too many local councils, most with different policies, procedures, priorities and approaches. Amalgamation will make sense both economically and financially, with the elimination of wasteful duplication, and politically with the extra national and international influence a single unified council will bring.
Financially, a Wellington Super City will provide plenty of opportunities to make big savings, recently estimated by Wellington Regional Council to be between $12 million and $29 million per year (The Dominion, April 8, 2013). One savings would result from fewer managers, council offices, councillors and mayors. Admittedly, in the short term some savings and efficiencies are likely to be lost by costs associated with the change process.
Nevertheless, the “Conclusions of the Joint Working Party on Local Government Reform” dated 8 March 2013, advises us that in the longer term much greater efficiency and cost savings will be achieved through “economies of scale, more integrated planning, better prioritisation of resource use, a greater pool and depth of expertise, streamlined plans and processes, reduced compliance costs, more efficient service delivery, and also by avoiding uneconomical duplication, competition and waste.” Another area for financial efficiencies includes procuring services as a result of larger contracts that achieve lower costs per unit.
Also, fewer councils mean fewer meetings. One prominent investor, has described local council meetings as occasions when minutes are kept and hours and dollars are wasted. Amalgamation means better regional planning, problem solving and decision-making, and greater regional strength and cohesion, all of which results in improved effectiveness and efficiency.
Another important reason for amalgamation is to give our region greater political influence with central government and overseas. Central government would no doubt prefer to deal with a single authority. We can then get out there and sell Wellington with a single voice. As the saying goes, if everyone is paddling the waka in the same direction we have a better chance of getting to where we want to be.
At present it seems that only Auckland and Christchurch are getting the government’s attention. Kerry Prendergast, a previous mayor of Wellington City, told us “When Aucklanders get their act together, they are going to be a powerful economic force with great political clout. If Wellington isn’t also up and ready, we are going to be left behind” (The Dominion, January 23, 2011).
In fact, it seems that Auckland Super City is already benefiting from its new found Super City status with the recent promise of “considerable central government funding towards major improvements to Auckland’s transport infrastructure, recognising that a city that can’t move its people or goods around quickly and efficiently is unlikely to grow and prosper” (Sunday Star Times, June 30, 2013). Perhaps a Wellington Super City would mean an earlier start on our Transmission Gully project and the extension to our airport? Thus, amalgamation means stronger leadership and a more effective relationship with central government.
Imagine our current Wellington City Council trying to bid against Auckland Super City for the right to host event projects such as the World of Wearable Art and the Sevens’ Rugby Tournament. Imagine too, Lower Hutt trying to secure additional government funding when Auckland has its hand out. It’s not just Auckland competing with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane for people and investment dollars, but Wellington too.
The main arguments in favour of a Wellington Super City are economic, financial savings and greater political influence. Of course the final shape for our region may be decided by referendum or even compulsion. Perhaps a useful tactic is to now get more public awareness and buy-in to the Wellington Super City project by inviting us hapless citizens to suggest designs for a Wellington Super City logo – a common practice for such change propositions designed to win over the fickle populous.
While the longer-term benefits of a single super city project clearly outweigh the dis-benefits, it seems unlikely that my local short-sighted and frugal Lower Hutt City Council will vote for their own demise. “Why should we pay Wellington’s debts!” might be the hikoi catch cry. Yet, if the Auckland experience is anything to go by, Wellington has little to fear. The single Auckland council has already removed a lot of the duplication and false boundaries that existed before. For the first time the city has a strategic vision and infrastructure projects planned for the whole region – something that Wellington desperately needs as well.
Having argued the case for our local Wellington Super City, perhaps New Zealand might eventually settle for as few as five local government regions based on our successful Super Rugby franchises. What could be more quintessentially New Zealand?