The essence of the case for a Unitary Council for Waiheke
The essential assertion of the ‘Our Waiheke’ case is that it is highly likely that Waiheke Island would be better governed separately than under the current arrangements. The Waiheke Island community has a different focus and very different aspirations to those of greater Auckland and to Auckland’s environmental imperatives.
Our Waiheke supports the need for regional governance for mainland urban Auckland, particularly as it relates to regional infrastructure development and responsiveness to relatively fast growth. This was made clear to the Mayor at the outset of our campaign.
We assert that few, if any, of the benefits of regional governance are being gained by the Waiheke community. Only privately owned, unsubsidized services connect us to the mainland and the product of most efforts to ‘harmonise’ regional services and policies with Waiheke have typically created unnecessary friction as they have limited relevance in our standalone setting.
Meanwhile, the dead weight of multi-layered governance and a large bureaucracy working under structures with diffuse accountability are very apparent to us. It takes 6 FTE staff [costing well over $1m in direct costs] just to enable the Waiheke Local Board to communicate and work with the ‘Council family’ of organisations. These organisations have a very different orientation and agenda from that of a Waiheke that is determined to maintain as low a level of communal “hard” assets as is consistent with our relaxed semi-rural values and local priorities.
Competence and financial viability
We have demonstrated that the Waiheke resident population is better educated than the Auckland / NZ population. It is highly skilled and creative and capable of the kind of entrepreneurial behaviour that has seen Waiheke’s economy grow considerably faster than Auckland’s over an extended period of time. The community is active politically and displays a willingness to engage in a wide variety of voluntary activities.
Over one third of NZ’s 53 District Councils have a rating base and/or population similar to or smaller than that of Waiheke – see list below. We have studied the annual reports of these councils and found that they have revenues below or well below Waiheke’s per capita council revenue. Typically these councils are well managed and operate with budget surpluses. Most have healthy balance sheets and low levels of debt. And yet, they have more or far more facilities such as swimming pools, libraries, halls and ‘hard’ assets such as water and waste water reticulation, stormwater, bridges and many more kms of roads than Waiheke has, or aspires to have.
We have provided a number of case studies in our application to demonstrate the likelihood that diseconomies of scale and mismatched aspirations are far more likely to apply now than any economies of scale that might accrue to governance under the present large, relatively remote, Auckland governance structure. We will readily be able to provide more such examples of how difficult it can be to meet simple objectives locally. We are also confident that both the Waiheke Local Board and our community will provide testimony to the LGC on this assertion when they are consulted on our application.
The one functional area subject to debate about possible economies of scale and affordability is in the cost of roading. Waiheke is a difficult place to provide robust roading due to its poor soil structure and the lack of suitable roading materials on island. This does raise costs. We would welcome debate on this subject, however, as there are many examples of how Auckland Transport is operating in a sub-optimal, unplanned way which is more aligned with the needs of its main contractor than with any concern about maintaining or improving roading in line with local preferences. AT has yet again confirmed that it will not work with the Local Board to develop a much needed 10 year plan for Waiheke
Questions we would want addressed in our meeting
- When, and by what means, will the LGC consult the Waiheke community? In particular, will there be any effort to deal with our application meaningfully before the amendments to the LG Act currently under consideration are likely to be enacted?
- How will the LGC deal with a multiplicity of applications for change in greater Auckland in a way that makes sure any eventual proposal/s are voted on in a referendum / referenda which is/are relevant to the localities actually to be affected? The legislation is not clear on how multiple proposals would be dealt with and any single referendum with a multiplicity of proposals for different areas is likely to be confusing and more likely to be inconclusive.
- Is there any possibility, given an analysis by the LGC of the applications and submissions received in response to its request for suggested changes to Auckland regional governance, that the “affected area” decision can be revisited as it relates to Waiheke?
- What does the LGC think will be the effect on our application of changes to the LG Act currently under Parliamentary consideration?