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Wellington's early amalgamation plans revealed, why it won't be a super city

Author
Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Sun, 17 Mar 2024, 4:37pm
Amalgamation is being considered in Wellington but a super city is not on the cards. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Amalgamation is being considered in Wellington but a super city is not on the cards. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Wellington's early amalgamation plans revealed, why it won't be a super city

Author
Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Sun, 17 Mar 2024, 4:37pm

Wellington civic leaders have secured a meeting with ministers to discuss a potential regional deal, and are considering whether amalgamation could be its centrepiece.

A Wellington Regional Leadership Committee meeting agenda has revealed the possible options for amalgamation being floated.

The three existing Wairarapa councils could be turned into one council. Kāpiti and Horowhenua councils could be combined. Hutt City, Upper Hutt, Porirua, and Wellington city councils could be merged.

It is suggested there would still be one regional council.

The committee’s deputy chairman Daran Ponter stressed no conclusions have been made about amalgamation and discussions have so far only happened at a mayoral level.

However, it was clear there was no appetite for a super city arrangement, he said.

“That is largely because of the blood that was left on the floor, if you like, of the super city proposal last time around and a strong pushback from the community to that proposal.

“I think mayors are very conscious of that and are looking to take a more staged approach to amalgamation.”

Former regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde was rolled by her councillors in 2015 over the super city idea.

Wellington Regional Leadership Committee deputy chairman Daran Ponter stressed the amalgamation question is still in its infancy. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wellington Regional Leadership Committee deputy chairman Daran Ponter stressed the amalgamation question is still in its infancy. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Ponter said the amalgamation issue has lingered ever since and was reignited last year when the Future of Local Government report recommended a reorganisation of councils.

“This reorganisation is not optional – if councils don’t lead the change, there will need to be provisions for decisions to be made on their behalf,” the report said.

The committee agenda said councils shared pressing issues including fragmented ownership models, underinvestment, significant looming investment, lack of rating base and debt headroom.

One of the existential issues identified was the challenge of meeting the needs of the current and future population.

Ponter said mayors have been asking themselves whether amalgamation could be at the centre of a regional deal or whether it should be pursued separately.

Water infrastructure could be another problem to centre the deal around, which was identified as a critical short-term problem to focus on in the meeting agenda.

“A water infrastructure package that could include the creation of a new water management entity; the implementation of water meters; workforce skills and training; and Wairarapa water resilience,” documents said.

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said she was open to a conversation about amalgamation.

“In the long term, it probably makes sense to consolidate. But we are already working regionally on pressing issues like water and transport and that is my main focus right now.”

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau says she's open to a conversation about amalgamation. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wellington mayor Tory Whanau says she's open to a conversation about amalgamation. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Hutt City mayor Campbell Barry said all options should be on the table.

“With all the challenges local government faces with funding and financing, water and infrastructure generally, we need to be taking a hard look at how to do things differently.

“In my view, jumping straight to amalgamation is putting the cart before the horse and all options need to be considered.”

Porirua mayor Anita Baker said she was personally open to looking at amalgamation and having a discussion.

However, she also emphasised it was early days and something her council was yet to consider.

Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy could not be reached for comment.

The meeting agenda said ministers had confirmed interest in a regional deal - something National previously signalled on the campaign trail.

“At this stage content and timing of regional deals is uncertain. There is no clear timing for when the Government/Ministers will formally commence discussions with regions or which regions will be prioritised.

“Nevertheless, Ministers have confirmed they are willing to discuss the option of a regional deal with representatives of this committee.”

A meeting has been scheduled for April.

When the Government officially announced in December that the $7.4 billion Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport plan was dead, Transport Minister Simeon Brown said he was looking forward to discussions regarding a regional or city deal.

“This would mean having strategic objectives for road, rail, public transport, housing and environmental resilience investments for Wellington that are shared by central, regional and local government, along with long-term funding commitments to enable certainty of planning,” Brown said at the time.

Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.

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