Change is the only constant

Published on 30 August 2021

Ann Court (Deputy Mayor)

I am not in the habit of quoting ancient Greek philosophers, but Heraclitus was onto something when he said that “change is the only constant in life”. This general truth about the laws of nature and the human condition seems particularly apt right now. New Zealand is back in lockdown and dealing with a deadly pandemic that none of us could foresee when we were elected to Council in 2019. We cannot predict how New Zealand will emerge from the Delta outbreak, but we can talk with some certainty about other major changes that are in the wind.

Let’s start with the Future for Local Government initiative. This two-year review launched by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta in April represents the biggest shakeup of the sector since councils were amalgamated in 1989. An independent review panel has been tasked with looking at what local government does, how it pays for it and what its role might be in 30 years. The terms of reference direct the panel to focus on how local government will be a key contributor to the wellbeing and prosperity of New Zealand and an essential governance connection to communities. This is a broad remit, so the review is an opportunity to rethink the governance and delivery of services central government currently provides, including housing, social services and education. This may sound radical, but these are all services that local authorities in the United Kingdom provide under a more decentralised government model. I look forward to reading the panel’s interim report next month. This will outline the direction the review will take before the panel issues a report for public feedback in September 2022.

Mayor Carter has already talked about the Three Waters Reform Programme in his column. Since he last commented on this, the Council has agreed to provisionally opt out of the programme until we have enough information to make an informed decision. It is not clear that the Far North would be better off under the proposed service delivery structure or that communities would have ownership or control of assets that they have funded through their rates. The Council is keen to know what you think and will be undertaking a survey about this next month.

Community voice is also critical to improving resource management in New Zealand. Some would argue that the Resource Management Act has raised the cost of infrastructure and housing while the quality of our natural environment has gotten worse. The Natural and Built Environment Act seeks to address this.  However, the exposure draft consolidates district plans into regional plans, eroding the rights of communities to have a say in how their district develops. It is really important that we get the new Act right, so we will be watching this closely.

Change may be inevitable, but the outcomes change produces are not.  I encourage you to find out more about these proposals and to have your say when submissions are invited.