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Big issues on the horizon for local government

Big issues on the horizon for local government - Local Government Perspectives 2017

A new triennium signals a new strategic direction for local government. And in the coming months Local Government New Zealand will be reviewing its strategic policy priorities for the coming three years.

Lawrence Yule, President, Local Government New Zealand

At the time of writing there are several challenges that are likely to remain key issues for the coming triennium.

Climate change

It’s clear from scientific evidence that we’re in for a material rise in sea levels and coastal erosion over the next 50 years, something we are beginning to see happen in parts of New Zealand. That trend, together with increasing incidences of large storm events, will place pressure on local communities and infrastructure through erosion and flooding.

Around the world local government is at the frontline of climate change adaptation, and it is no different here. Climate change is a key priority for local government given its implications for a broad range of its roles, including water quality and quantity, infrastructure investment, civil defence and land use planning.

During 2016 LGNZ worked with its membership on a series of policy initiatives around climate change and this will continue into 2017 and beyond. Climate change adaptation will require a combined approach and LGNZ continues to advocate for a forum for central and local government to discuss climate change issues, particularly in relation to areas where there is existing development and infrastructure investment.

Infrastructure renewal and investment

Roads and the three waters infrastructure account for the greatest investment by local government. Our roads are generally in good shape as a result of ongoing investment, although network expansion in congested areas remains a challenge.

But the three waters infrastructure position – drinking, waste and storm water – will require greater attention and investment. Making sure we continue to enjoy the quality and quantity of water resources we are accustomed to in years to come is going to require new approaches and the flexibility to adapt to a range of different challenges. LGNZ believes a strong, local government sector-led approach to managing our three waters infrastructure will produce the best outcomes for our communities.

Additionally a holistic approach to discussing water policy, which considers health and environmental quality standards, rights to access and use water, and the infrastructure that delivers water to users and treats wastewater and storm water as a whole is required, and something LGNZ will lead.

Risk and resilience

The devastating earthquakes of late last year once more illustrated the need for risk and resilience management practices. Work towards a Local Government Risk Agency continues with positive signs it will be implemented, and a framework to provide the sector with a common way of speaking about, and applying, risk assessment and management tools and concepts has been developed. It is envisaged the framework will be applied across all council functions, including hazard management.

Performance, engagement and reputation

Lifting the reputation of the sector among the public and businesses is an important goal and one that progressed well in 2016. The Local Government Excellence Programme, an independent assessment tool available to help councils “show their value and grow their value”, was launched and is well underway, with 21 councils signed on as Foundation Councils. All will have been assessed by the middle of this year and the second year intake will commence later in 2017.

The programme is an excellent opportunity for the sector to strengthen our leadership and service delivery for our communities.

In the lead up to the 2016 local elections LGNZ ran a campaign to lift participation in local democracy. This was successful by some measures but it is clear more work will be needed to ensure our communities are engaged on the issues that face them.

Looking ahead, a broad strategic approach will be needed to achieve this. Local government is the roads we drive on, the water we drink, the parks we visit and the libraries we use so it is critical communities are involved in the decisions around the things that touch their lives on a daily basis. LGNZ will investigate a range of options for lifting engagement, including digital methods, civics education and better council communication to increase awareness of the services we offer.

The Excellence Programme is also designed to help councils better communicate with their communities about the great but often poorly understood work they do.

In 2016 we managed to halt the decline in voter turnout. We now need to embark on a long-term programme of activity to keep things moving in the right direction.

This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.

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