Frontpage News - March 2019

Published: March 18, 2019

News type: National news   

LGNZ's advocacy is focused on giving life to a strong democracy that provides a safe home for all faiths and walks of life.

Friday's attacks on the Linwood and Al Noor mosques in Christchurch were an affront to this vision. 

Our thoughts are with all those affected, in particular our Muslim and immigrant communities. For all, LGNZ will continue to strive for a better New Zealand.  

Greetings from LGNZ

Across a number of fronts there have been moves to remove local choice and pull decision making and resourcing back into the beehive, under the belief that change is needed, and that the only way to achieve it is through centralisation and amalgamation.

LGNZ strongly disagree with this approach.  At the recent Localism Symposium, LGNZ took that centralist approach to task, and alongside over 130 delegates from councils, iwi, business, media and social agencies, we explored potential pathways to better outcomes that won't run over New Zealand's communities. 

Read on to find out what we're saying about the big issues facing New Zealand.

LGNZ extends condolences to those in Christchurch

LGNZ President Dave Cull has expressed his condolences to those affected by the terrible acts in Christchurch.

“On behalf of communities around New Zealand and the wider local government whanau I want to express my condolences to the families of those affected by the terrible acts of violence in Christchurch."

"It goes against everything we stand for; our welcome, our openness, our manaakitanga and our desire to build strong, safe communities."

“This outrage has not been perpetrated against someone else. It has been done to us. And we must support each other in our shock, our hurt and our grief.”

"There is no room for this kind of hatred in our society, and it's up to us to make this right. Local communities have embraced migrants of all cultures who choose to make New Zealand their home, many as part of the Welcoming Communities Programme. Through these and many other efforts we become one people - one community."

"Right now, we need to support those people in Christchurch affected most - the families, friends, and those in our public service and volunteers who have assisted. We will do everything in our power to make sure this doesn't happen again.  Kia kaha."

Localism Symposium: NZ's political system is broken

LGNZ’s recent Localism Symposium heard how New Zealand’s highly centralised political system is failing New Zealand and that we need to devolve decision making and power to improve community wellbeing.

The NZ Initiative launched their #localismNZ: bringing power to the people report, which illustrated how Beehive-centric decision making has dragged on New Zealand’s economic performance and dynamism.  This was followed by LGNZ’s localism discussion paper which put out a framework for devolution and greater local decision-making.                                                              

The event was attended by a broad range of stakeholders including representatives from iwi, parliament, local government, business, central government ministries and social services.  Their feedback on the framework was that New Zealand’s political system needs to develop more incentives for communities, which will drive better economic, environmental, cultural and social outcomes.

“LGNZ has long advocated for devolved decision making and today we put up a framework proposing how to do this as we wanted to road test and develop our ideas before we start advocating for them,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“A strong theme in the feedback was that the devolution of decision-making needs to stop being theoretical and be put into action.”

“We were pleasantly surprised by the positive response we received and the constructive ideas aimed at helping improve our framework further.”

“This correlates with our own surveys of the public which show that only 30% of New Zealanders are opposed to devolving decision-making power down to communities.”

LGNZ’s draft Localism Discussion Paper will be circulated among councils and stakeholders for further feedback and discussion before a final paper is presented at LGNZ’s Conference and AGM in July.

“A number of regional issues are being treated with one size fits all policy - oil and gas decisions in Taranaki, polytechs in Invercargill, the national motorway rollout, regional fuel taxes for Auckland but no one else – the list goes on.” 

“Central government imposes national policies without cost benefit analysis on the impacts for local communities, leaving local government, as those communities elected representatives, to lobby for compensation or policy adjustment.  Central government priorities are often not our communities priorities.”

Visitor levy referendum opens door to bold regional policy making

The announcement of a referendum to gauge public support for a Queenstown visitor levy is welcomed by LGNZ, who noted the town’s exceptional challenges, where a population of 28,000 people provide infrastructure for over three million visitors a year.

Queenstown's ratio of 34 international visitors per resident is among the highest in the world, and the current ability of the council to provide essential services such as roads, footpaths, three waters, parks, toilets and tourist facilities is extremely stretched. This is because all of the direct tax benefits from tourist activity, such as GST, PAYE and profit taxes, flow into central government's coffers.

As an exceptional location, LGNZ has long advocated that New Zealand’s one size fits all policy for tourism and infrastructure funding has fallen far short in place like Queenstown, and that a levy for visitors is needed to cope with the growth.

“Queenstown is a small town with a massive international reputation as a tourism destination, but its popularity and growth has been a huge burden on the ratepaying base, when it doesn’t need to be,” says LGNZ Mayor Dave Cull.

“Today’s announcement is a positive step towards a policy that recognises not all areas of New Zealand are the same, and that specific, tailored policy is needed to tackle unique challenges and make the most of our regional strengths.”

“I believe that tourists will be happy to pay for their fair share of the infrastructure that they use, as they do in many other parts of the world.”

“Too often central government policy makers have been scared to loosen the reins on our regions and let them make the decisions that are best for their communities, which we think is unfounded. This is a move in the right direction.”

The non-binding referendum will be considered by Queenstown Lakes District Council today.

“Our regions welcome the opportunities that tourism brings, but we need to find a balance to maintain tourisms social licence with our communities. Visitor arrivals are forecast to reach 5.1 million by 2024, so more flexibility to have those tourists pay their own way is needed,” says Cull.

A new campaign to increase voter turnout at the 2019 Local Authority Elections

LGNZ’s new #Vote2019NZ campaign encourages more New Zealanders to get involved in the Local Authority Elections this October.

Local Authority Election turnout has been declining in many areas of New Zealand since the 1980s.  LGNZ’s ten-month #Vote2019NZ campaign, running until the 12 October polling date, aims to lift nationwide voter turnout in local elections and increase people’s engagement with their local council.

The campaign also encourages citizens with strong leadership qualities and a passion for their community to consider standing as candidates themselves.

The # Vote2019NZ campaign is based on domestic and international research about who is voting, who isn’t voting, why they aren’t voting and what will influence them to vote.  Measures to build elector turnout will include a strong focus on younger voters.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says local body voter turnout varies significantly across different age groups and geographic areas.  LGNZ survey results have shown:

  • The total national voter turnout for the 2016 election was 43 per cent.
  • The highest voter turnout in 2016 was in the 70-plus age group (89 per cent) and lowest was in the 18-29 age group (34 per cent).
  • The main reasons people give for not voting is not knowing enough about the candidates (33 per cent), ‘forgot or left too late’ (23 per cent), ‘not interested’ or ‘too busy’ (each 16 per cent).
  • The councils with the highest turnout in 2016 were the Chatham Islands (71 per cent), McKenzie District (64.3 per cent) and Central Hawkes Bay (62.7 per cent).
  • Of the Metro districts both Wellington and Auckland has a lift in voter numbers. Auckland saw an increase of 4 per cent and Wellington had an increase of 5 per cent.

New Zealand’s local body voter turnout is lower than a number of OECD countries with similar forms of government, including Ireland, Denmark and Norway – but it is still higher than Australia, England or Canada.

Mr Cull says in order to improve these statistics, the first step is to raise public awareness of the value of local government and the role it plays in the everyday lives of New Zealanders.

“Our aim is to grow citizens’ understanding of the breadth of services delivered each day by local governments across New Zealand, and the impact those services have on their everyday lives.  By making that connection, we hope it inspires Kiwis to take a more proactive stance on the issues they care about in their communities,” says Mr Cull.

“Citizens can get involved by voting for their preferred candidate this October, and maybe even deciding to stand as a candidate themselves,” says Mr Cull.

Mr Cull says creating a larger pool of skilled candidates is another key step to improving local democracy and ensuring the value local government delivers to its communities remains high.

“Local government in New Zealand faces major challenges, from environmental issues to major infrastructure replacement, often in the face of demographic change.  We need to ensure elected representatives have the abilities, training and diversity of skills to rise to these challenges,” says Mr Cull.

“Ultimately, how well local government performs impacts on how well communities and citizens prosper and succeed both now and into the future,” said Mr Cull.

Mr Cull said successful candidates would be provided with significant support.  LGNZ provides elected members and council staff with governance training and guidance through its EquiP professional development programme designed builds a consistent level of capability across the sector.

Mr Cull says the final step is ensuring voters have access to the information they need about candidates standing in their community and about the voting process, including when, where and how they can vote.

“The research shows us there is a significant number of citizens who are interested in the process but don’t vote, or, who want to vote but say it’s too hard to find the information they need to make an informed decision. The #Vote2019NZ campaign will address these issues,” said Mr Cull.

Mr Cull urges New Zealanders to find out more about what their local council is doing in their own community and how they can get involved and have their say in how to shape it.

“Democracy is both a privilege and a responsibility.  By participating in the local government process and casting your vote you help ensure it rests on the right shoulders.  Our goal is that, for the first time in nearly two decades, local government will be elected by a majority of New Zealanders,” said Mr Cull.

Visit www.vote2019.co.nz for further information.

The case for localism and how to get there

Presented at the recent LGNZ Localism Symposium, the localism discussion paper provides the vision for a shift in power and resources to New Zealand’s communities, and a re-boot of local democracy in the process.  A summary of this paper, which is currently being circulated among councils and stakeholders, can be found below.

Why localism?

Our highly centralised institutional settings are not working and are acting as a drag on efficient and effective functioning of our society and economy. The effects of this have become acute in recent years, most notably in areas experiencing significant growth and housing shortages but also in other areas of New Zealand where our governance system is unresponsive to the interests of individuals, communities and business.

What are the issues?

Power concentrates at the centre

When it comes to centralisation, New Zealand is an outlier among OECD countries, with central government accounting for 88 cents of every dollar of public spending, against an OECD average of 46 cent. As a general rule, countries that are centralised tend to be less wealthy and have lower productivity decentralised countries.  Decentralisation has the power to reduce the time it takes to make decisions, and provide decisions that are tailored to specific circumstances, in a way that remote, central government agencies are unable to.

One size fits all policy is failing

The New Zealand policy landscape is rife with “one size fits all” thinking where, by necessity, central government decision-makers have to simplify the problems they are trying to solve because they cannot manage complexity.  The Resource Management Act is a case in point, treating urban, provincial and rural regions equally, when in fact their needs are quite distinct.

Government’s free lunch

Central government has a long history of passing duties and responsibilities onto local authorities. The problem arises when these responsibilities come with little or no central government funding to enable the new responsibilities to be performed, leaving local authorities to meet the costs from local tax revenues. It is a problem that pervades our legislation, and central government decision-makers are under no compulsion to disclose or pay for the costs they impose on communities.

Misaligned economic incentives

As the operational arm of the state, local government is responsible for funding and building much of the infrastructure to cope with central government policy, but gets few of the revenue benefits from it. The ratings system, through which most councils fund their activities, is poorly linked to the economic cycle.  That’s because existing ratepayers have to pay for the infrastructure needed to accommodate new residents, and the benefits from a bigger ratings base are imperceptible because they only accrue in the long term.

How would localism fix these issues?

End unfunded mandates – central government’s free lunch

The localism discussion paper advocates for an Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, which would require central government officials to tally and disclose the costs they would impose on ratepayers, through their decisions.  

Full disclosure of the costs imposed on councils by central government is likely to improve the quality of decision-making at both the highest and local level, as room to hide on who is the cost exacerbator dwindles.

Contractual devolution – the right tool for the right job

Critical to establishing an effective and efficient devolved model for New Zealand is to establish a mechanism through which responsibilities and duty can be devolved to local government.

LGNZ proposes a contractual devolution approach. This recognises that some local authorities may be better placed to take on tasks managed by central government in their jurisdiction. Where councils are likely to achieve better outcomes, local authorities should be allowed to negotiate with central government to take over these functions. There are already strong mechanisms through which this can be achieved, such as Treasury’s Better Business Case framework, a well-established methodology that central government already uses to provide objective analysis to decision-makers.

Financial incentives

In countries such as Switzerland and Germany, councils embrace population growth because they have strong incentives to do so. With each new resident they gain a revenue stream in the form of a local taxpayer or capitation grant from central government. In simple terms this gives them the resources to meet the costs that new residents bring, and councils seek to be as responsive to community needs to attract additional resources.  This isn’t the case in New Zealand.

The only way to avoid situations where councils face making trade-offs between maintaining and enhancing existing service levels or investing to provide for the needs of future residents, is to provide better funding and financing tools; ones which are more responsive to population changes, such as a tourist levy or a share of GST.

Community engagement

Under the framework proposed by the localism discussion paper, councils will become more accountable to communities, spending more time listening to their wants and needs, and reporting back on how they have performed against these directives.

To ensure that councils are accountable, they need to be assessed on how they have listened to communities and have put community directives into practice. Under LGNZ’s localist framework councils will be given a greater range of tools, but how, when, and to what degree those tools are applied is at the discretion of their communities, and councils must be held accountable for how they have used them.  This could involve external assessments, such as LGNZ’s CouncilMARK programme.

NZTA needs to address the country's investment needs

Local Government New Zealand is calling on the government to ensure that the internal issues at the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) are fixed soon.  The current state of affairs is stalling housing developments and regional economies through the Agency’s seeming inability to progress vital roading projects.

In some of New Zealand’s most expensive housing markets such as Tauranga, Queenstown, and Hamilton, local councils are battling to open land for housing development because they cannot get NZTA to commit funding to ready-to-go roading projects.

“Quite simply, you cannot open land for housing development without infrastructure such as drinking and wastewater and most importantly roads.  Local government along with NZTA are co-investors in this process,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“Unfortunately, ongoing corporate restructuring at NZTA, coupled with a subsequent move to pull regional decision-making back to head office, has stalled many regional projects that are needed to open land for development.”

In Tauranga, for example, improvements to SH29 have the potential to open land for 3,000 homes in Tauriko West. The business case for this project, which NZTA described as a “strategically important link between the soon to be completed Waikato Expressway on SH1 and Tauranga”, was approved in 2016 but has yet to get off the books.

“This issue is not limited to places like Tauranga - we regularly hear from councils around the country about how the disruption at NZTA is clogging much needed projects, including major projects in some of our biggest cities as well as in regional New Zealand,” said Mr Cull.

“Central government needs to realise the interconnected nature of housing and infrastructure.  You can’t have one side of the equation misfiring without affecting the other,” says Mr Cull.

“Local government has planned for and budgeted for these roads.  Council money is literally sitting there ready to be put into action, but we need NZTA to sort out its issues quickly and come to the investment table.  Further stalling will see construction capacity leave the regions because of uncertainty about when more work will come down the pipeline, and that will hurt regional economies and communities most.”

OECD report highlights NZ’s lack of national sea level rise framework

A report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides strong support for the recommendations given by LGNZ’s recent report Vulnerable, which identified as much as $14 billion of local government infrastructure is exposed to sea level rise.

The new report finds that in most OECD countries, local governments implement measures to directly manage coastal risks, but that the enabling framework is set at a national level, and that central government should be responsible for providing the tools and incentives so that communities can plan and adapt to climate change.

However, in New Zealand the lack of an enabling framework is creating uncertainty that threatens private property, infrastructure and the environment.

“It’s pleasing that this in-depth, international report uses the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazard Strategy in the Hawke’s Bay as a case study of good local government leadership on adapting to climate change,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“However, it highlights that for all that good work at a local level, there is a huge deficit of national support for our coastal communities.  Around the world, it’s recognised that national plans are needed.  What we’ve been given in New Zealand is a guidance document that provides local government with limited direction, and as a result there’s great uncertainty for our coastal communities.

“Although we’re pleased with what we’ve achieved in Hawke’s Bay, we’re ultimately operating in a grey area because there hasn’t been any national alignment on responsibilities, resourcing or policy,” says Coastal Hazard Joint Committee Chair Peter Beaven.

“As the report points out, ‘The answers have not yet been developed in Hawke’s Bay or anywhere else, and a serious conversation about our respective roles is long overdue.”

In January, LGNZ released a report showing as much as $14 billion of local government infrastructure is at risk from sea level rise, calling for the government to urgently develop policies to help minimise the impact of climate change.

“Local councils have for many years led the policy debate around climate change adaptation in New Zealand.  We are literally on the front line, and have been engaging with residents, iwi, and businesses who are exposed to rising sea levels, but the threat is too big for us to fight alone,” continues Cull.

“As a country, we cannot continue to respond to climate change related events on a piecemeal basis.  We need to put a robust policy framework in place to ensure we minimise the disruption and harm to communities, and we only have a relatively narrow timeframe in which to do it before the scenarios in our sea level rise report become a reality.”

Scrapping SHAs hamstrings housing

Local Government New Zealand is disappointed by the Government’s blanket decision to not renew the Special Housing Area (SHA) legislation, saying the policy needed refinement not a red line through it.

SHAs were enabled as a means of bypassing unnecessary red tape in the planning system that has for decades clogged up the market, to deliver affordable housing that New Zealand’s communities desperately need.

While far from a perfect solution to New Zealand’s moribund planning system, they provided a framework that offered certainty to developers looking to build more houses. In Tauranga, for example, the 13 SHAs provided capacity of 3,373 dwellings, of which 901 had been consented and 578 completed. Tauranga City Council describes SHAs as “the quickest means of enabling new development capacity in the short term.”

“One of the perverse outcomes of New Zealand’s housing crisis is that local councils have footed the blame for what is effectively a regulatory system failure due to the design flaw of our planning system,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“The decision to axe the SHAs compounds that failure by taking away one of the few tools that have enabled some councils to enable faster housing development.  We would have preferred that the government fixed the weaknesses of the SHAs rather than canning them outright.”

“We know that SHAs weren’t working as desired in some places, but in areas like Queenstown and Tauranga they have proved to be a useful means of cutting through RMA red tape. This is another example of how hasty decisions made in the Beehive can have long lasting perverse outcomes in regional New Zealand.”

“We are collaborating with central government on its programme to reform the planning system, but the Urban Development Authorities and a rewrite of the RMA are years away, whereas we need houses now.” 

“Local Government New Zealand have long known that we need flexible legislation that takes regional differences into account, which is why we’re disappointed with the move to scrap Special Housing Areas.”

CouncilMARK™ report delivers ‘A’ grade to small council doing big things

The Independent Assessment Board which oversees CouncilMARK™, the local government excellence programme, has awarded Hauraki District Council an A rating, citing stand out performance in governance, strategy and engagement with the community.

IAB Chair Toby Stevenson says the CouncilMARK™ assessors found a council led by a long-serving and highly respected mayor and chief executive team who hold strong relationships with residents, ratepayers, Māori and businesses.

“At the core of this council we found a culture that is based on humility and service to the ratepayers.  This has endured due to a thorough induction process where both the mayor and chief executive lead in their areas to ensure good governance process is understood, and that transparent, supportive relationships exist between the elected members and council staff,” says Stevenson.

“The council has an in-depth understanding of the community needs across three quite separate wards, which they are responsive too, and they’re particularly adept at balancing compliance and performance, which has earnt wide respect in the region.”

“There’s no shortcut to getting that understanding and respect – it’s been earnt through the process the council use to develop their Long Term Plan.  They produce accessible consultation documents, in plain English, without over-simplifying issues.”

“This is enhanced through their embracing of digital engagement - they’ve grown their Facebook page from 800 followers to over 4,000 in the last two years, and use it well to complement their strategy, particularly with young people in the region.”

The report finds a strong emphasis on continued infrastructure development, identified as an area needing continued investment.  In close proximity to Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, continued judicious financial management is needed to meet potentially conflicting growth demands across the region.

“The council has a long history of conservative financial management and a financial strategy that is underpinned by affordability.  It importantly reflects the emerging population trends within the district, including the number of people commuting to work in the region greater Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions.”

LGNZ President Dave Cull praised the council for undertaking a CouncilMARK™ assessment.

“Undergoing a CouncilMARK™ assessment is a commitment to transparency and continuous improvement.  The ratepayers of the region should be proud, not just of the great result, but the council’s open engagement with the Independent Assessment Board.”

IAB Chair Toby Stevenson says the CouncilMARK™ report, which can be found here, measures indicators across leadership, finance, asset management, service delivery and community engagement. 

“CouncilMARK™ has been designed to improve the public's knowledge of the work councils are doing in their communities and to support individual councils to further improve the service and value they provide to all New Zealanders,” he says.

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