Monday, 29 December 2014

Be careful what you ask for

Leave a Comment

I was surprised at the speed in which the Masterton District Councillors dismissed the Local Government Commission’s (LGC) recommendation that Wairarapa join a Wellington Super City. It was apparently an acrimonious debate which saw those councillors preferring a Wairarapa Unitary Authority win the argument by six votes to four.

There were suggestions that the supporters of a Unitary Authority had not read the draft proposals thoroughly and that councillors should be careful not to paint themselves into a corner before having a dialogue with their community. I suspect however those opposing were sensing that there was no mood for a Super City amongst the rank and file who inhabit the town.

I wonder though if it has been carefully thought through. The LGC believe that Wairarapa can’t afford to go it alone and that stance has a good deal of credibility. Many people don’t realise that for the Wairarapa Council’s to combine and take over the role of the regional council would come at a huge cost for the 40,000 dear hearts and gentle people who live and love in the Wairarapa.

If the rest of the councils in the Wellington region go kicking and screaming into the proposed super city then in effect the Greater Wellington Regional Council ceases to exist and Wairarapa, out on a limb, will have to pay for its own flood protection measures, catchment and pest control, environmental issues and more importantly the trains that take many of our residents to and from the capital city.

This is the very same city where many find employment, go to for sports and entertainment events and occasionally shop in, but apparently don’t want to join.

I do have some sympathy for this view. I suspect one of the reasons we are wary of being part of a Super City is our belief that it is not working well for Auckland. In fact it may be working perfectly well in Auckland, but we’ll never know because to judge it against the old deeply divided City of Sails is almost impossible. And it doesn’t help that Mayor Len Brown is universally unpopular for reasons of his own doing and for some beyond his control.

Anyway the LGC say they have learnt from Auckland’s mistakes and their proposal identifies where Auckland went wrong and makes adjustments accordingly.

We are all working on the assumption that for the Wairarapa there are just two options. We either join the Super City or combine the three Wairarapa councils and form a unitary authority.

In fact there is a third option and that is the status quo.

We know the two Hutt’s, Upper and Lower, have no appetite for the Super City concept and neither does Kapiti. Only Porirua has signalled that it would happily buy into the deal, but that enthusiasm is coming from feisty mayor Nick Leggat, with little support I suspect from his constituents.

So the councillors of all these districts need only to get together and say they don’t want a bar of the proposal and it will be dead in the water.

Combining the three Wairarapa councils would be a nightmare. Parochialism is just as alive and well in the Wairarapa as it is in the Upper and Lower Hutt’s and other areas like for instance Tawa and Porirua.

Where, you might ask, would the main council office for the Wairarapa be? The Wairarapa’s fastest growing town Carterton has always believed it should be the centre of the Wairarapa and has thought so right from its formation when it planted itself midway between Greytown and Masterton back in the nineteenth century. So it’s not hard to imagine that they would want the centre of local government to be within their environs and have built a splendid new events centre and repaved and reformed Holloway Street to allow for that eventuality.

Conversely Greytown might consider that they are the centre of the region geographically and argue that their quaint village should play host to the combined entity. 

Masterton’s grand town hall, which has only just been branded so that photographs taken from the picturesque new town square can be recognised nationally and internationally, is starting to look redundant by the minute.

I’ve been trying to think of future use for it and I wonder if it might become a Charter School.

And the mayor? Well Masterton has the voter grunt, but given that Carterton and the South Wairarapa folk don’t hold much truck with their big brother to the north they could promote just one candidate and ensure that their representation is intact.

A council centre in Carterton and a mayor from Martinborough might be the answer to overcoming parochialism.

But Masterton has spent a small fortune on its mostly underground infrastructure of late and may be reluctant to have to help pay for the other Wairarapa towns upcoming works in this category. It can also work the other way. Masterton has spent $50 million on a new sewerage scheme, but still pours treated effluent into the Ruamahunga River. New CEO Pim Borren said recently that we should have spent $100 million and done the job properly.

Ratepayers contemplating those figures could cause our sewerage facilities to go into overdrive.

And then of course there would be a shortfall amounting to millions of dollars that the regional council would not be spending in our precincts. That council is still paying off our reasonably new train-sets; I wonder if these repayments will be passed over to us?

I was on the Greater Wellington Regional Council for three terms and was amazed and gratified at the money that was spent in the Wairarapa - far in excess of the rates we paid - from the generous Wellingtonians, most of whom I suspect didn’t realise how generous they were.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? If our representatives can’t handle a Super City then they should join with their brethren in the south and west and demand the status quo.

Otherwise the Masterton councillors will start to look like turkeys who voted for an early Christmas.

“If you would be known, and not know, vegetate in a village; if you would know, and not be known, live in a city.” – Charles Caleb Colton


Post a Comment