Local government reform ‘myopic’ – researcher

Press Release – Massey University

The proposed changes to local government are “at best myopic and constitutionally dubious”, according to Massey University local government specialist Associate Professor Christine Cheyne.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Local government reform ‘myopic’ – researcher

The proposed changes to local government are “at best myopic and constitutionally dubious”, according to Massey University local government specialist Associate Professor Christine Cheyne.

At worst, she says they could result in a fundamental weakening of local government and significant distortion in the balance of power between the central and local government.

Dr Cheyne, a member of the 2007 Local Government Rates Inquiry, considers that the reforms announced yesterday reflect weak understanding of local government’s debt. “The proposals seem to be largely a knee jerk reaction to a few instances of under-performance, and are a poor strategy for dealing with difficult global economic conditions,” she says.

While the proposed reforms might appeal as short-term austerity measures, the long-term legacy of a lack of vision about the role of local government in a democracy is a concern. “New Zealand is already regarded in international comparisons as highly centralised.”

Dr Cheyne says the intention to prioritise infrastructure and other core services is likely to be very confusing and difficult to implement. Planning and building network or physical infrastructure should be integrated with social and economic goals and recognise wider community impacts. This is what the 2002 Act seeks to ensure.

The 2002 Act reflects international trends in local government reform that recognise the need for long-term social and economic planning to be integrated with land use and other resource planning.

“There is a large body of evidence that shows that internationally competitive cities and regions are those which have focused on place-shaping. This is what the 2002 Act’s power to promote wellbeing encourages. Under the RMA 1991 councils have responsibilities for maintaining and enhancing amenity values, which encompass a wide range of features that enhance the quality and liveability of places.

“Local government reform deserves a more considered and tested approach than what I see here,” Dr Cheyne says.

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