Reflections on the past 12 months’ achievements and local government sector challenges ahead.
Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, (then) Minister of Local Government
I offer my sincere condolences to those of you directly affected by the November earthquakes. I want to acknowledge its effects on New Zealanders, particularly those in Kaikoura and surrounding areas. It is times like these when New Zealanders show their resilience and their ability to unite to go forward.
I thank the mayors and councillors of the affected regions who demonstrated impressive leadership and assurance to their communities in these trying times. This event highlighted the importance of the central / local government relationship in meeting the needs of New Zealanders. It also highlighted the important role local authorities perform for their communities.
The past year has been a busy one for local government. Local elections were held in October and new councils are now settling in to grapple with the challenges for the next three years.
The Better Local Services reforms introduced to Parliament last year created debate and discussion. The reforms are designed to promote better value services for local people and I am pleased the sector has embraced the need for improving services and performance measurement.
Local authorities are facing challenges with infrastructure maintenance and development needs to accommodate future growth. Changing demographics, natural hazards and escalating costs mean local authorities need to find new ways to meet demands.
The reforms will provide additional tools to enable local authorities to develop new structures for managing core infrastructure. The Local Government Commission will have greater flexibility to work proactively alongside councils and communities to investigate and consult on alternative structures.
Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill No 2
The Local Government and Environment Select Committee received nearly 200 submissions on the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill No 2 and heard around 70 oral submissions. The Select Committee is due to report back to Parliament by the end of March. Officials have been working with SOLGM and LGNZ on details from their submissions some of which will improve the final form of the Bill.
Over the past year, I have travelled the length and breadth of the country and engaged with local councils and executives. The Central Government / Local Government Forum and sector meetings provided excellent opportunities for local body representatives to engage in detailed discussions with Ministers on key interface issues such as planning, infrastructure, transport, water, housing, disaster recovery, resilience and growth.
In 2017, I am keen to further explore ways of creating a better framework for the central government / local government relationship. It is essential that this relationship works seamlessly for the benefit of all New Zealanders.
Better Local Services
The Better Local Services reforms also help to underpin and support other significant reforms the government has underway in housing, urban development and resource management. For example, the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development will require local authorities to ensure a sufficient supply of land for housing and business growth, and better coordinate with infrastructure providers on the services needed to support that growth. The $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund will enable councils in high-growth areas to bring forward infrastructure projects important to increasing housing supply, whether this is in new greenfield urban areas, or existing urban areas to be redeveloped.
Tourism and freedom camping
Freedom camping is an important issue to many of you. A working group has been established to review current practices and bylaws relating to freedom camping. A reference group, including representatives of local government, central government agencies and the private sector is developing ways to maximise the benefits of freedom camping while also protecting the local environment. We need to ensure that tourists, both international and domestic, can enjoy the outdoors and all our country has to offer. To this end, the government has established a tourism infrastructure fund of $12 million which will fund core facilities used by tourists around New Zealand.
Menacing and dangerous dogs
In late November the government released the second tranche of proposals to reduce the risk and harm of dog attacks. The owners of dogs classified as menacing or dangerous will need to get a ‘high-risk dog owner licence’ from their council. Owners will need to show they are capable of handling a high risk dog, show they understand their legal obligations and have their property inspected. The dog’s temperament will also be tested. The changes will also introduce stricter penalties for owners of dogs that attack and improve data about dog attacks. Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston will introduce legislation in February.
Work is also underway with local authorities to develop national metadata standards on the 3 Waters network – potable, waste and storm water – and for residential and light commercial buildings. This work has already been done on New Zealand’s road network.
Roads, waterways and buildings are critical pieces of infrastructure. Holding accurate information about how they are managed will deliver significant economic, social and cultural benefits to New Zealand. Central government is responsible for more than $250 billion of infrastructure assets, and local government has a further $120 billion of community assets. The work to develop metadata standards will continue this year.
I congratulate LGNZ and SOLGM for their leadership in the local government sector. The LGNZ Excellence Programme combined with SOLGM’s Leadership and Excellence awards clearly show a commitment from the sector to ongoing improvement.
Finally, I would like to wish you all a peaceful new year. I look forward to working with the local government sector in 2017, as we strive to achieve better, smarter and more collaborative outcomes for our communities.
This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.