A new government model for Southland?

Written by:

Written by:

The Southland District Council is one of seventy-eight councils in New Zealand. In 2002 the Labour-led Government rewrote local government legislation, to streamline the Local Government Act into a modern version. This meant that the purpose of local government, as stated in section 10 of the Local Government Act, was to enable democratic decision making within districts across Aotearoa. It was also to promote social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of their communities “in present and in the future”.

Southland District Council (SDC) manages 5000km of roads, 8 library services, 150 parks and reserves, 13 urban water supplies, and 11 rural water supplies. All this and also the social, economic, cultural, and environmental well-being of their communities. It is a very big ask for a small (in financial terms) Council with big ideas.

Even the basic infrastructure is a huge challenge. Over the next 30 years, Southland’s sealed roads needs upgrading. The Council needs to increase its investment to rebuild sustainable roading networks. This is essential as Southland’s roading network allows economic commodities to move through their district, allowing for a thriving region where you can live, work, and travel safely.

Another key issue is bridges. In the plan, the SDC identifies 161 bridges that need replacing over the next ten years. The risk of not doing this is potential structural failure. They plan to “increase annual spend on bridges by $1 million per year to $3.5 million per year”. But Waka Kotahi cannot fund this. No dollars in the pot for Southland. The irony is that the government announced the new cycle bridge in Auckland Council’s jurisdiction around the same time funding was pulled. The Council will continue to advocate with Waka Kotahi and the government over the issue.

A lot is going on in the Southland District. There has recently been an independent review set regarding New Zealand’s local government. The review should establish significant issues that currently face local government. This includes the lack of funding for councils and them being able to respond to the concerns around the urgency to replace ageing infrastructure, to support the growth in their respective communities. This must also be achieved by maintaining their communities’ environmental and economic protection while mitigating climate change risks. According to Nanaia Mahuta (Minister for Local Government), the review shows local government flourishes on well-being within the community. The opportunity, however, lies in economic development, social enterprise, and the circular economy to provide better outcomes. It separates local solutions and localism because it strengthens collaboration in a community.

Currently, local government is portrayed as a third-rate form of government – just a beneficiary of goals, orders, or targets set out by central government. Local governments are not the driver of politics. In some countries, they have far more status and responsibilities. It is deplorable that local government here is no longer considered important and yet is forced into such an impossible decision. In the case of Southland, their ageing infrastructure has been met with challenges, such as the closure of bridges within their region and over the next ten years, 161 bridges need to be replaced. But how?

Centralization – running everything from Wellington – is one option. But the loss of democracy in a region that anyway often has little power does not seem like a good solution.

One option may be for Southland to join up with other Councils to share resources. Maybe Southland District Council could join up with the Southland Regional Council, Invercargill City Council and Gore District Council, and make a super region, to gain more clout.  It has certainly worked for Auckland, which often seems to get all the resources now.  Could this benefit Southland “in the present and in the future”?  

One Response

  1. Jack, I agree, democracy as we know it is being ripped away from our local communities. A sad prospect for community members.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Insight Aotearoa

Most of the blogs published here will either respond to initiatives elsewhere or will be ‘newsmaking’. Some will also be reflective in more general terms. The blogs will be topical and interesting. I like to inject some humour into my blogs.

Recent Posts

Sign up for our Newsletter

Get updates about recent posts and trending blogs!