Local government, as the exercise of democracy at the local level, is a fundamental part of New Zealand's governmental structures. However, the nature and scope of its role has changed significantly over time, primarily as central government has continued to devolve increased legislated responsibilities to councils. New Zealand First will return elected local government to all parts of New Zealand and oppose any undemocratic forced amalgamations.
New Zealand First believes that the role of local government must be aimed at achieving the best return for ratepayer and taxpayer money. This must be based on the world-class provision of core local government services, but with limits on non-core activities which add to the rates burden. New Zealand First believes the time has arrived to ask the very serious questions of why do we rate, on whom and who benefits from these rates?
New Zealand First will:
- Build on the recommendations of the 2006 Shand Report, specifically around the drivers of local government expenditure and the various mechanisms for raising funds for local body councils.
- Resolve the issues which have emerged since local body councils received the power of general competence.
- Conduct a nationwide study into the inter-relationship between regional and local councils and community boards, exploring both their functions and relevance.
- Encourage communities of interest to explore the feasibility of merging some local body entities in the interests of getting better value for money for ratepayers.
- Reduce the layers of bureaucracy which have increasingly been superimposed onto local government.
- Review the legislative burden that central government has placed on local government and the impact of this on ratepayers, in particular, compliance costs imposed by central government.
- Explore options to reduce the rates encumbrance on seniors with a fixed income.
- Improve the promotion of the rates rebate scheme, consider alternatives for the administration of the scheme to improve access and take-up, annually index both the rates rebate and the income thresholds against average rates increases, and consider extensions to the eligibility in relation to occupiers of retirement homes, papakainga etc.
- Provide local authorities with sufficient powers and incentives to provide more affordable housing options and to make more land available for housing.
- Amend consents process to improve the timely provision of more affordable housing.
- Ensure that water supply and waste-water charges levied by a territorial authority OR a council-controlled organization be eligible expenditure within the rates rebate scheme.
- Fine tune the local government role in the Resource Management Act (RMA) process (See RMA policy for more detail).
- Review the balance between statutory requirements and the discretionary decision-making processes.
- Ensure that there is one single voting mechanism across all local authorities - be it simple plurality or Single Transferable Vote (STV) to limit voter confusion.
- Remove the provision of separate wards based on race in local government.
- Establish an explicit programme of work aimed at addressing the entrenched problems associated with the rating of multiple owned Maori land and rates remission bringing together representatives of central government, local government and Māori.
- Encourage local government use of the community wage scheme for conservation and weed and pest control activities, and for beautification and maintenance of waterways, beaches, parks and roadsides.
- Initiate policies and expectations to restrict rates to 50 per cent of revenue raised by local authorities.
- Legislate that local government can only charge rating differentials to businesses if evidence of differential costs can be demonstrated.
- Remove GST on rates, and review the rating of schools for sewerage disposal and the proportion of rates spent on roading and consider the removal of 'non-rateable' and '50 per cent rateable' status from Crown and non-Crown land listed in Schedule 1 of the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 with the exception of the conservation estate, roads, and Parliament and vice-regal residences.
- Establish a new Infrastructure Equalization Fund of $100m per annum to assist councils in establishing water supply, waste water, and storm water infrastructure. Encourage local government to make greater use of debt-funding for long-life assets and thereby reduce potential rates rises.
- Enable councils to set their own fees for all regulatory responsibilities on an 'actual and reasonable' cost-recovery basis.
- Clarify the status of local government in relation to Genetic Engineering issues and central government regulations of GE.
- Integrate emergency services into a single Ministry of Emergency Services. Civil Defence, Police, Fire, Ambulance will share facilities, stations, radio communication facilities, vehicles and civilian support staff.
- Actively discourage local councils from selling off key strategic assets including pensioner housing.
- Develop sustainable national policies on water and air quality, but with sufficient flexibility to address local circumstances.
- Promote the use of the most up-to-date technologies and international experience in tracking water use patterns, thereby ensuring that policy decisions are based on sound science.
- Encourage strategies for soil use, which both encourage their economic potential and limit their environmental impact.
- Urgently advance work on the development of rubbish disposal alternatives (including exploring international experience).
- Develop plans and procedures to handle waste water in rural areas.
- Put in place adequate policy frameworks to deal with the issue of contaminated sites.
- Ensure that local councils are able to adequately address the issue of aquaculture to ensure the industry is able to flourish within the legislative framework.
- Examine the findings of the Royal Commission into the Governance of Auckland and act on recommendations which will lead to better co-ordination and harmonization of planning and development of facilities for the greater region.
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ACT
If New Zealand's economy is to reach its potential then it must have world-leading planning and resource consent laws. After 19 years the Resource Management Act (RMA) clearly requires thorough revision to improve processes and procedures, reduce compliance costs, clarify expectations and responsibilities, and to facilitate progress and protection.
Many of the problems that have arisen in relation to the RMA have been about delays in the consent process, costs, consultation requirements and lack of uniformity in how local councils approach the Act. Therefore the remedy must be threefold: to more strictly define and clarify the processes required to effectively adhere to the Act; to remove many of the obstacles and present frustrations which have unnecessarily become part of these processes; and to ensure that all affected parties have unhindered access to the consent process.
Changes to the RMA must be balanced against councils' publicly developed long-terms plans and must also take cognizance of the substantial body of jurisprudence, as a consequence of the RMA.
New Zealand First will:
- Further enhance the value of the pre-hearing phase by empowering councils to ensure the attendance of relevant parties, by requiring that specific and agreed timelines be established, by ensuring that the necessary evidence be established along with the expertise required, by requiring that those who facilitate the pre-hearings phase have a comprehensive understanding of the RMA and, by ensuring that any costs required to change the pace or scope of the process be met by the party requiring that change.
- Amend the RMA to require that, at the conclusion of the pre-hearings meeting, only those issues that have been defined as forming the basis of a hearing should be the subject of any further hearing.
- Improve the hearings meeting process by requiring that applications be fully completed through a pre-hearings phase with agreed timelines. Use only those with relevant qualifications and experience, preferably qualified Commissioners, during the hearings. Conduct hearings in a ‘submitter friendly’ context, including wherever possible, holding hearings local to where the consent is being sought. Identify vexatious litigants and treat them as such.
- Amend the RMA to set out a process allowing the combining of several local body jurisdictions for one consent process in clearly defined circumstances.
- Repeal clause 8 of section 2 and remove reference to the 'principles of Treaty of Waitangi' from this legislation. We note here that in Part 2 of the RMA, where reference is made in clause 6(e) to Maori and their culture and traditions in relation to ‘matters of national importance’, and in clause 7(a) with regard to kaitiakitanga under ‘other matters’, that those issues of most importance to Maori are addressed.
- Amend definitions, particularly the terms used in clause 6(e), relating to 'spirituality' which, as a matter of personal conscience, has no place in resource consents. Whilst sacred sites and other tangible aspects of Maori culture ought to be taken into account in the resource consent process there must be a thorough revision of consultation requirements.
- Require authorities to maintain registers of those sites defined under section 6(e) (subject to further refinement of the definitions) and of recognized Iwi Authorities (or where applicable hapū) and appropriate personnel. Best practice by local councils suggests that where a constructive dialogue and involvement by local Iwi occurs, both council planning and the RMA process run more smoothly and are less costly. Those aspects of Maori culture and heritage values in clause 6(e), once they have been satisfactorily defined, and in section 7 will be protected.
- Introduce greater certainty, transparency, and accountability and require that payment must always be for services rendered, with all transactions subject to appropriate auditing and accounting practices.
- Limit the scope for de novo hearings by the Environment Court to exceptional circumstances and matters of law and the role of the Environment Court largely to rehearing Council decisions and thus remove many of the bottlenecks that currently impede the process.
- Ensure that the Environment Court is adequately resourced with sufficiently qualified people sitting on the Court. Whilst noting a recent injection of funding, the resourcing of the Court must be monitored carefully to ensure that lack of resources never again interrupts the smooth running of the consent process.
- Ensure that appeals to the High Court may be based on law only, once the facts have been established. This is indelibly linked to our view that if the pre-hearing and hearing phases are improved, then the contestability of facts and law are greatly reduced.
Rt Hon Winston Peters MP on this policy
"New Zealand First believes that the role of local government must be aimed at achieving the best return for ratepayer and taxpayer money. This must be based on the world-class provision of core local government services, but with limits on non-core activities which add to the rates burden. New Zealand First believes the time has arrived to ask the very serious questions of why do we rate, on whom and who benefits from these rates?"