In October 2016, New Zealand will elect new District, City and Regional Councils for the next three years.
For many people Local Government issues and elections are boring affairs. It is true that in many respects that utilities such as drinking water, roads and sewerage are not hot topics. It is also true that in the perceptions of the public local government elections can be similarly staid affairs. But at the same time these are issues that will affect you and your family on a day to day basis. So how is New Zealand shaping up 10 months out from the 2016 elections?
In Christchurch the general perception is that Mayor Lianne Dalziel and her City Council have done a credible job trying to tackle the massive task of rebuilding the city. The Council has enjoyed a relatively productive relationship with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee. Although major concerns remain around key projects and the C.B.D. progress, a second term seems likely if Ms Dalziel wants it.
In Auckland, incumbent Mayor Len Brown has indicated he will not stand again. Mr Brown leaves with the knowledge that he has made significant inroads into Auckland’s commuter rail issues. He has tried his best to get away from the shadow of the prostitute scandal. Current Member of Parliament for Mt Roskill, Phil Goff, has indicated he will stand. Unless another strong candidate stands, Mr Goff looks like a shoo-in.
In Wellington, Mayor Celia Wade Brown, who has drawn international attention to her efforts to promote sustainability and address concerns about Wellington’s readiness for a major natural disaster, has drawn plaudits. But five years into her mayoralty, she faces some stiff challenges for a third term. And Wellington City Council has a major problem with quake prone buildings and an unknown length of time in which to deal with it.
District Council elections are often the most staid. Certainly they are some of the least contested, with a few having no challengers to the incumbents whatsoever. Perhaps this is voter apathy. Perhaps there is simply no one else able to give up their time, but I have always found it a bit sad that if just for the sake of challenging the incumbent, no one else is prepared to give it a go. There will probably be a couple winners by default again in 2016. Some of the Councils are so small in terms of rate payer bases that I think they need to merge with their neighbours, but would these councils be prepared to admit this?
But the ones that fascinate me the most are the Regional Council elections. In Auckland where the Auckland Regional Council merged along with several District and City Councils to become Auckland Council, the lack of acknowledgement about the concerns over how the statutory functions of the former A.R.C. hint that a long term headache for Auckland ratepayers is looming. I personally believe it was a mistake to abolish the A.R.C. The same can also be said for Canterbury, where Environment Canterbury is under the control of Government appointed Commissioners. Six years of no democratic voting for Regional Councillors at Environment Canterbury has seen it become one of the least well regarded councils in New Zealand. It remains to be seen when Environment Canterbury will be restored to a fully democratic council.
The other Regional Councils struggle to balance the desires of the City and District Councils to promote economic growth, with their statutory responsibilities regarding the environment and natural hazards. Horizons Regional Council in Manawatu has had similar problems with dairy farming as Environment Canterbury has faced. However its predominantly rural constituency means it has remained in favour with central Government. Problems balancing infrastructure bills with ratepayer expectations may be what determine the outcomes of Regional Council elections in 2016.