The battle between local government and central government

With an endless list of critical issues such as water supply infrastructure and housing to be resolved, consensus between local and central government appears to be a pipe dream, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin

The relationship between local government and central government is essential

In a recent Herald’s article Simon Wilson (paywalled), he lists questions he wants to ask Auckland mayoral candidate Wayne Brown. One is how Brown proposes to work with central government, citing Brown’s failure to get the government on board with a review of the future of Auckland Port in 2018. As we know, the future of the port remains undecided. Wilson’s question is important in the current context of the Auckland mayoral race, but it also shows how important this relationship is to getting things done in New Zealand, whether initiated by local government or central.

Three-quarters of mayoral candidates don’t think Three Waters is the right way forward

At the moment, the relationship does not seem to be in the best shape. Results of a Local Democracy Reporting survey yesterday revealed 75.3% of mayoral candidates don’t think the Three Waters reforms are the best way to make the investments that are sorely needed in hydraulic infrastructures. Auckland and Christchurch councils are pushing back on housing density rules. The detail covered this issue well yesterday. What a time to be alive when someone describes ‘people on the sidelines with popcorn’ in the battle between the government and Christchurch City Council. The Act party leader and deputy leader are traveling to Christchurch to be part of it, with a public meeting on the issue scheduled for Thursday. The government says it’s willing to discuss options. In his newsletter for subscribers yesterday morning, Bernard Hickey indicated that there are signs that the bipartite pact of densification could soften.

Calls for clarification of council power following Productive Land Declaration

In 2019/2020, total consultancy revenue in New Zealand was $13.9 billion. For the government that same year, it was $116 billion. Government has far greater buying power than councils and you can see the lure of centralization and Wellington reform as infrastructure deficits grow and costs rise. On the other hand, the criticisms of decision-making in Wellington and its remoteness from parts of New Zealand are valid. Recent measures taken by the government to protect productive land from housing construction have been met by calls for clarification of exactly what power the board has in Auckland. You must be wondering why this wasn’t clarified with the guidance before the statement was released.

Reshuffling between central and local government hampers progress

Hickey also summarized what he thinks is wishful thinking government on this particular issue. His exasperation is palpable. Constant shuffling between central and local government is hampering progress in a country as small as New Zealand. It’s almost inevitable that local issues will be framed through the prism of the battles over big national issues here, but according to this from the London School of Economics, this is not necessarily good for people’s opinion of local democracy. In my area, all local election billboards are defaced, but those clearly associated with the government seem to suffer from more regular attempts to gouge out candidates’ eyes. That can’t be a good sign for local candidates or central government, or even anyone hoping for an aligned vision of how we might tackle our biggest challenges.

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