Local Government Magazine

Wellington region – Together but separate

Wellington region - Together but separate - Featured Image - LG March 2018

The benefits of an integrated approach for a multi-jurisdictional metropolitan area.

The Local Government Commission has been working with local authorities in the Wellington region on ways to collectively strengthen and support effective and resilient growth. Recent studies focused on how more integrated planning could help address the key challenges facing 
 the region.
Wellington’s metropolitan area of 465,200 residents (June 2017) is administered by five territorial local authorities and one regional council. It is a highly interdependent area, with 55,000 people crossing council boundaries to work each day, and a large amount of social, economic and cultural interaction. Many key challenges – population growth, housing affordability, economic development, natural hazards resilience, land transport and infrastructure planning – require cross-boundary collaboration to get the best outcomes.
Wellington’s councils have been working together using different coordination models for many years: from ad hoc collaborative exercises on specific issues through to a shared-service council-controlled trading organisation.
In June 2015, following consultation with communities and stakeholders, the Local Government Commission (LGC) decided not to proceed with its proposal for a single region-wide unitary council.
However – in light of feedback supporting closer cooperation for some services – working with the councils, the Commission continued to explore opportunities for strengthening local government in the region. It targeted four specific functions: land transport, water services, economic development and spatial planning.
To provide an overarching framework for coordinating investment and actions across local government functions, spatial planning was seen as a critical area in which cross-council collaboration would yield significant benefits.
A spatial plan is a 20- to 30-year strategy that sets the strategic direction for a community to form the basis for the coordination of decision-making, infrastructure, services and investment.
It is a means of aligning other council plans, as well as providing a visual illustration of the intended future location, form and mix of residential, rural and business areas, along with the critical transport and infrastructure required to service those areas and any relevant environmental constraints (for example, natural hazards).
The Commission engaged Boffa Miskell to provide a high-level overview of the advantages and disadvantages that a spatial plan could have, and the challenges and opportunities involved in developing one.
The study examined how councils in other multi-jurisdictional metropolitan areas, both in New Zealand and overseas, can work effectively together in preparing and implementing spatial plans. The study examined two successful New Zealand examples – the Smart Growth plan for Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty; and Future-proof for Hamilton and environs.
“Getting central government support and ongoing involvement with metro-planning frameworks appears to be a key ingredient for successful integrated outcomes,” says Robert Schofield, one of the report’s authors. “Strong local political support is also very important.”
In researching the value to be drawn from a spatial plan, the Boffa Miskell study identified a range of benefits.
“Individually, Wellington’s councils do excellent work in planning for urban growth within their districts,” explained Robert.
“The key benefit of a single spatial plan is the unified vision that it creates for communities, business, infrastructure providers, and for central government. From this framework, councils and central government can collectively work more effectively towards achieving common aspirations.”
The study also identified challenges for effective spatial planning, including the need for a forum with an agreed decision-making mandate, strong political leadership, and enduring funding and governance arrangements.
Following feedback, the Commission engaged consultancies Boffa Miskell, Hill Young Cooper and NZIER to jointly research frameworks for providing a greater level of integrated planning in the region.
This 2017 study commenced by engaging with key regional stakeholders, who collectively considered that there would be real benefit from a greater level of integrated planning in terms of reduced time and cost, and better-quality outcomes.
“The message from stakeholders was not to add another layer of decision-making,” said Robert, “but, instead, to integrate a number of existing cross-council collaborative arrangements into a more cohesive framework.
“While good progress can be made through existing collaborative agreements, it takes considerable time to deal with various council divisions, governance groups and decision-making processes. This complexity adds to the cost and the length of time required to make decisions on issues of common concern,” he continued.
The study examined how other multi-jurisdictional metropolitan areas have responded to challenges similar to Wellington’s, identifying significant value in applying an integrated planning approach.
“Some benefits of integrated planning are not necessarily expressed in financial terms,” commented Mike Hensen from NZIER. “It can be challenging to demonstrate that each individual council will be better off financially, as many of 
the benefits are qualitative and spread across the metropolitan region.
“The most important benefit is the responsiveness achieved by streamlining the decision-making process.”
Coordinating investment planning in urban growth and infrastructure / transport development was the main driver for working together in the four planning case studies examined for the report. Importantly, though, the other metropolitan areas did not focus solely on single issues but instead addressed all regional issues in an integrated manner, recognising their interrelatedness.
Integrated planning also involves working with central government agencies, housing and other developers, and partners such as NZTA, KiwiRail and airport and port companies, to bring land use and transport planning and investment together. This would help to deliver regional economic growth, stronger communities and a healthy environment, now and in the future.
“Effective integration directs the internal planning processes of all key partners so that planning and resource investments serve a common vision,” said Mike.
The study concluded that integrated planning enables greater certainty for planning and investment, leading to improved efficiencies and lower costs for delivering on economic growth. It also noted that it would:

  • Provide a single overarching vision and direction for the region, and enable it to have ‘a unified and consistent voice’ when engaging with central government, national agencies and businesses;
  • Ensure more consistent land use planning, with all local authorities adopting a more singular, strategic approach to addressing long-term land use, infrastructure, transport and other needs;
  • Encourage ‘shared’ regional services, ideally to provide ‘one-stop shops’ for a range of functions – for example, regulatory controls on infrastructure development; and
  • Improve capability and capacity, by achieving economies of scale and scope – and expanding the ‘resource pool’, especially of specialised staff.

The study concluded that, while the benefits of working together are clear, this does not have to be achieved at the cost of individual councils losing their own identity and specific sense of place.
In reflecting on these findings, Sir Wira Gardiner, chair of the LGC, said: “There are significant challenges in tackling land transport, and land use and infrastructure planning across the metropolitan area. But an integrated approach would ultimately enable Wellington’s leaders to deliver better outcomes for their communities.”

This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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