Local board debate about to begin

Members of the Golden Bay Local Board Working Group. From left, Laurie Healy, Averill Grant, Tony Lawton, Roland Toder. Photo and article: Jo Richards.

On Monday morning, the Local Government Commission (LGC) officially opened the first phase of public consultation on the option of a Golden Bay local board. At the same time, the Commission published its consultation document – posting a copy on the LGC website and sending out hard copies to all Tasman District mailboxes.
The 14-page document explains what a local board is, the positive reasons for establishing one, what it might do, and what it might cost, including who would pay for it. The contents will form the basis of what could prove to be a crucial community conversation about the future governance of Golden Bay. That discussion begins in earnest next week with public meetings being held in Takaka and Collingwood.
The document explains, in some detail, the pros and cons of establishing a local board in Golden Bay, but the argument really boils down to whether Tasman District Council and Golden Bay ratepayers are prepared to pay for improved local democracy, better local decision-making and more responsive governance.
The Golden Bay Local Board Working Group (GBLBWG), who applied to the LGC in 2018 to investigate the establishment of a local board, are following developments closely. Working Group secretary and spokesman Tony Lawton says the group’s first reaction was that the document “represents a good basis for the upcoming discussions with the Golden Bay community about community-level democracy”.
He hopes that public debate will improve on what he says is already a good proposal. “Even as it stands, it would represent a significant improvement in local government decision-making for this remote and wonderful community. However, we see a number of opportunities to deliver even greater benefits to the Golden Bay community.”
One of the key advantages of a local board is its increased autonomy achieved by reallocating non-regulatory functions and responsibilities from council to the community. While the Commission recommends that a local board is made responsible for many of Golden Bay’s community assets, it proposes only an advocacy role for others – specifically commercial assets such as Port Tarakohe, Takaka Aerodrome and the two campgrounds. Tony says a local board should have, at minimum, a shared responsibility for these facilities rather than a “remote” advisory role. “We believe integration of these assets into a Golden Bay Local Board’s Three-Year Plan is vital for ensuring efficient, sustainable development whilst respecting the Bay’s unique and special culture and environment.”
Regarding regulatory responsibilities, the GBLBWG is concerned that success of the LGC’s proposed collaborative approach with Tasman District Council, will be heavily dependent on the latter’s goodwill.
Tony believes it would be more efficient to delegate decision-making for certain areas of regulation to a local board. “The Working Group identified in its application specific areas of local regulation where a more tailored approach to suit our unique community requirements could have significant benefits for the community, like housing regulation and seawall protection – benefits it would be a shame not to achieve.”
The wider scope of responsibilities accrued by a local board compared to a community board means that governance and support costs will increase, and this is likely to be a key issue for the Golden Bay community. Under current legislation, TDC will determine the targeted rates for these costs, something that Tony is concerned about. “The Commission has made an excellent start with the work it has done in establishing what these costs should be, but we believe only direct pressure from Wellington will ensure TDC charge our community in a fair and equitable manner.”
The Commission has estimated a targeted rate of around $15 per annum for each Golden Bay household to cover increased governance costs related to the five elected members of the local board.
In addition, the Commission recommends the appointment of one additional council staff member to provide the local board with direct support, at an estimated annual cost of $240,000, which could take the total increase in annual rates to $75. However, Tony points out there is a strong argument for spreading the burden across the district. “We see merit in the argument that as many of these responsibilities are transferred from TDC’s Richmond base, with its 300-odd staff, rather than incremental services, there is scope to absorb more of the direct costs in the general rate.”
Tony stresses the importance of finding a financial solution that is acceptable to all parties. “The benefits are clear; it would be a shame for the issue of funding governance and support costs to prevent the Golden Bay community from achieving them.”
The Commission recommends that any additional indirect decision support costs should be born by council, something that is endorsed by the Working Group. “Given that these costs are based in Richmond, and that TDC has the ability to reduce costs relating to Golden Bay local board support by offsetting reduction in its Richmond bureaucracy for the transferred responsibilities, there should be little argument with the Commission that these costs be funded from the general rate.”
Interested parties will be able to discuss these issues, and many other aspects of the local board, until the initial consultation ends on 14 August. During this period the LGC welcomes submissions which can be made via its website, by completing the form provided in the consultation document, or by writing directly to the Commission.
In September submitters will have the opportunity to present their arguments in person at one or more hearings, after which the LGC will consider all inputs and, if necessary, hold discussions with interested parties “to clarify the scope of any particular allocation or delegation of decision-making responsibility, or the particular mechanisms for representing local interests in governing body decision-making”.
Although a final decision is expected in November, there will be plenty of work to do before October next year when the election for a new board is scheduled to take place. If all goes according to plan, the new local board would come into existence on 1 November 2021.
In the meantime, Tony is anticipating a positive discussion about the local board and urges all parties to participate. “We look forward to having the Commission engage with our community, and the other communities in the Tasman district, to establish the public view on this proposal, and hope TDC take this as a fantastic opportunity to work with our community, and its other communities, to significantly enhance community-level engagement in local government.”
Public meetings:
Rec Centre, Takaka on Thursday, 16 July at 7pm.
Collingwood Fire Station on Friday, 17 July at 10am.
For more information:
Local Government Commission at: www.lgc.govt.nz
GB Local Board Working Group at: www.gblocalboard.co.nz