Rodney Hide: Address to the New Zealand Planning Institute

Press Release – ACT New Zealand

Chief Executive of Local Government New Zealand, the recipients of the Geok Ling Phang Memorial Award, organisers, ladies and gentlemen – thank you for inviting me to join you here this morning.Rodney Hide
8 November, 2011

Address to the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) World Town Planning Day Breakfast

Chief Executive of Local Government New Zealand, the recipients of the Geok Ling Phang Memorial Award, organisers, ladies and gentlemen – thank you for inviting me to join you here this morning.

I would like to thank the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Planning Institute for hosting this event, on what is a significant day for planning globally.

WorldTownPlanning Day presents an opportunity to look at planning from an international perspective. The world’s populations now live in predominantly urban environments, and the success of these urban societies relies on how efficiently their urban environments function.

For New Zealand, the growth in urban population is most apparent in Auckland. Auckland has experienced change on a far greater scale than any other urban area in New Zealand. Auckland is now positioned to take on a globally-connected role, and it already possesses a number of attributes of a strong international city. The important thing now is to ensure that Auckland’s potential is realised.

The first of November marked the one year anniversary of one council for Auckland – an important milestone. It was the largest local government amalgamation ever attempted in Australasia and I’m happy to briefly take a look back at what has been achieved.

The reforms were critical for Auckland’s future and for New Zealand’s future. As New Zealand’s international gateway, with our main port and airport, the Government has always believed Auckland has strong potential to significantly improve its productivity and rate of productivity growth.

A country’s international competitiveness increasingly relies on the competitiveness of its major cities. Cities have to attract businesses and investment which in turn support innovation, growth and the specialised skill sets that underpin the export of goods and services. Cities must also offer an attractive lifestyle, not only to attract the skilled international workers we need, but also to ensure talented Kiwis choose to stay here and drive our economy. The future success of New Zealand – its economy, its people, and its international reputation – is dependent on the success of Auckland – more so than ever before.

The purpose of the reform was to substantially improve the governance of our largest city. With the help of Aucklanders, the Council is now poised to make real, lasting improvements, which would never have been possible before. The changes in Auckland will result in a strengthened and integrated governance structure. As a unitary authority, the Council will now be able to make critical regional decisions to move Auckland forward and foster common regional identity and purpose.

For example, the work on the waterfront and the CBD has been needed for some time, but had to wait until there was a council sufficiently empowered to do the job. The size of the crowds in these areas during the Rugby World Cup was a good indicator of the benefits of continuing investment in key locations in the city. I’m very excited about the Council’s vision for Auckland’s waterfront and CBD. Both of these areas are vital elements to Auckland becoming a truly international city.

The common purpose in Auckland means no more endless disagreements about the location and funding of regional amenities, and the provision of necessary infrastructure. These issues were stuck in the mire of competing local agendas, but are now moving forward and being resolved.

Local decision-making on transport now rests with a single body. There will be no more costly duplication of functions with eight rating authorities and a multitude of differing bylaws. When Auckland needs to act as one, it will be able to.

The uniqueness of the Auckland situation requires new approaches never seen in New Zealand before. The Auckland spatial plan is a first for New Zealand and provides the people of Auckland with the opportunity to comprehensively and cohesively plan for the future of the region.

Spatial planning is an internationally recognised approach to implement social, cultural, environmental and economic policies in city regions.

One of the core principles of spatial planning is the idea of engagement and negotiation – that strategic objectives are widely debated and agreed, including between the private sector, central government and communities.

The Plan sets out the Council’s vision for developing Auckland over the next 20 to 30 years. Spatial planning, although new to New Zealand, is a key strategic planning tool used by governments and local governments across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.

The Plan will guide the location and sequencing of major infrastructure, listing the major infrastructure projects planned for the next 30 years to identify the existing and future location and mix of critical infrastructure, services and investment within Auckland, including those services relating to water supply, wastewater and stormwater.

The Auckland Spatial Plan, and the other plans released alongside it, mark the first time that local government has been able to plan effectively for the whole of Auckland. The fact that they were produced in 10 months, and to such a high standard, is extraordinary. Nowhere in the world has this been achieved. I’m also very pleased with how the Government, the Council and officials have worked together throughout the process.

The scope of the Plan itself extends well beyond the mandate and budgets of Auckland Council, requiring a collaborative approach with Government and many other stakeholders, including the private sector.

The Government has taken an active interest in the Auckland spatial plan. The decisions made in the spatial plan will have implications for both the Council and the Government. The spatial plan process has the potential to improve Auckland’s economic performance, urban form, and liveability, and Auckland’s prosperity will contribute to the prosperity of the whole country.

The submission period on the draft plan ended on 31 October and hearings on the submissions are being held during November and December. The outcome of the hearings will lead to the draft plan being finalised next month.

The Government and the Auckland Council’s work together on the spatial plan is a clear example of how new central government/local government relationships can develop and work. This has included regular and constructive engagement between the Government and the Council at political and senior official levels. I’m expecting that this engagement will continue after the election, as the Auckland spatial plan is finalised in February 2012.

The Minister for the Environment, Hon Dr Nick Smith, has work underway on the Resource Management Act Phase two reforms, with the intention of introducing a bill to Parliament next year. Dr Smith has also asked officials to consider the role of spatial planning outside Auckland, and how it can be used to improve integration, reduce complexity and provide greater certainty around resource management decisions. He will keep the public updated on the outcomes of this review.

It will be interesting to see whether spatial planning could be applied elsewhere, and if potential for benefits could be realised in other large urban centres.

Wellington for example has been a leader in urban design in New Zealand; having a public waterfront and a vibrant and diverse central area. But like Auckland there are challenges ahead. Wellington’s location on a faultline makes its built environment and infrastructure vulnerable to earthquakes, which will require investment to protect against.

Similarly, the Canterbury Earthquake has, of course, presented Christchurch with a number of issues but also a rare opportunity. The city faces significant and unique challenges and the long term recovery of the city and region will require a coordinated and comprehensive strategy.

Spatial planning could be used in other centres, if it is considered appropriate after the review.

During my time as Minister of Local Government I have done my best to promote and protect the principles of local government. I support the practice of local people making decisions for their communities.

As Minister I have always been keen to get costs down for ratepayers. Through legislative reform, I have created a more efficient, effective, ratepayer-friendly form of local government.

However, I still consider the Local Government Act too prescriptive. But the challenge of the Act being too prescriptive pales in comparison to the tide of legislation passed by government and the multitude of policies pursued which further burden the effective functioning of local government. Over and over the principles of good governance are sacrificed for the particular policy objectives being pursued by Ministers and central government agencies.

Both I as Minister and the local government sector are frequently affected by the decisions made in other Ministers’ work programmes. Sometimes these changes happen without the views of councils being sought and more significantly without considering how the imposition of a function or role on local government affects a council’s accountability to its residents and ratepayers.

Let me give you a controversial example.

The Government naturally and rightly wants to settle historical Treaty grievances. However, Treaty negotiators are now discussing co-governance and seats at the council table in lieu of cash and property. The purpose is not good local government but Treaty settlements.

Of course, if the objective is a Treaty settlement, then its unlikely good local governance will be the result. These are two different objectives. The drive for a Treaty settlement is quite different from a drive for sound local governance.

The local government sector and I have found ourselves always on the wrong side of the Treaty settlement process, not because we were against the settlements as such, but because we were striving for good local governance.

And, of course, in the past local government and local communities weren’t involved in the process until the deal was done, because rightly, Treaty settlements are the responsibility of central government, not local government.

We found it impossible to debate every proposed settlement on the basis of the principles of good governance. So we engaged Cabinet in a debate about what principles for local government should guide the Treaty settlement process. That was much simpler. Having established the principles at Cabinet, we now have a sound basis for the proper discussion of Treaty settlements as they affect local government.

I think the big challenge for local government now and in the future is establishing its proper place in the constitution of New Zealand. To me it’s very clear. Local government is our second tier of government, properly constituted and democratically elected. But successive governments have not always treated it as such.

At present the lack of clarity about local and central government roles means we have overlapping decision making and blurred accountability. Furthermore, there are no clear principles around the central government and local government relationship.

I began a review of our system of local government to allow us to step back and take a look at the whole system of local government and to pick up on the many concerns and issues that have been raised with me when I have met the sector.

It’s a big project for local government and for the country, and other hands than mine will guide it to its conclusion. I hope it has generated enough momentum to propel it through the next three years to a conclusion.

I know how hard it is in our parliamentary structure to provide proper constitutional protection for local government. Parliament is, after all, sovereign.

Nonetheless, I believe that the Government should sign up to a statement of principle to govern its relationship with local government after each and every election. The Government should be required to adhere to these principles unless there is good reason not to. Because otherwise, to be frank, councils will continue to be pushed around every which way.

I see these principles dealing with:

• transparency about the cost of regulatory intervention;
• what level of government is most appropriate to make particular decisions; and
• the rare circumstances that make it appropriate for central government to constrain local government decision making.

I believe that central government should keep these principles in mind at all times before making any decisions relating to local government.

Once we get the principles established, decision making becomes a whole lot easier. What we have achieved for the Treaty settlement process by way of good principle is what we should have for all policy.

We need to protect the core democratic aspect of local government, while at the same time not excluding opportunities for review, reform and change when appropriate. This requires a clear understanding of who does what and why.

None of us here wants to see local government being undermined by a greater centralisation of power, struggling with the burden of more prescriptive use of regulations and being subject to ad hoc change and government interventions.

Once again, thank you for inviting me to speak.

It has been an enjoyable experience being Minister of Local Government. I have found it both challenging and deeply rewarding.

And finally, as I move in a new direction, I will continue to watch with interest the developments in local government and the benefits that come from Auckland acting with a common purpose.

Thank you. I am happy to take any questions that you may have.

ENDS

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