Christchurch: The Super-City?

Posted on July 13, 2011 by

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First we had the Auckland ‘Super-City’. Should there now be a Christchurch ‘Super-City’? The Minister of Local Government, Rodney Hide, certainly thinks so and at a local government conference in Wellington he floated it as an idea that Christchurch and Canterbury residents should consider.

Hide said the Christchurch City Council could be turned into a unitary authority, taking control of areas that were previously under the control of Environment Canterbury (ECan), including transport (funnily enough, something Bob Parker has mooted from time to time). Obviously, the ECan issue has yet to be resolved, in that we don’t really know what will happen beyond the current term, so to me it has always been obvious that the future of local government make-up in the Greater Christchurch area would be under question. Given recent events, now would seem like an opportune time to ask the question; should we go the ‘Super-City’ route?

Personally, I was never a great fan of ECan, although that doesn’t mean I supported the sacking of the councilors and deferment of elections until 2013. My main gripe was always that it was the wrong authority to be in control of areas of concern to Christchurch, a good example being transport. I always felt Christchurch would be best left alone to make its own decisions, either with Selwyn and Waimakariri District Councils cooperation or as an expanded greater Christchurch Council. Transport is a prime example; to me it never made much sense to have it under ECan, which to me is an overwhelmingly rural focused authority, and I think that has been a major reason for a lack of vision and progress.

I would be in support of a Christchurch ‘Super-City’ so long as the following conditions were met:

  • community boards have a strengthened role in local decision-making
  • urban areas in the Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts are either included entirely or  at least to some degree
  • Council Controlled Organisations are transparent
  • Council activities are transparent and the Council is accountable
  • Christchurch still has a say in wider Canterbury issues (for example, water)
  • the rest of Canterbury has an appropriate and sustainable local authority
  • the people of Christchurch and Canterbury set the direction and make the final decision on the ‘Super-City’
The Auckland model has not been without its controversies and there seems to be a mixture of opinion about whether it has been a success or not. Unfortunately, it is all we have to go on right now  but it is really early days there anyway. Hopefully, by 2013 we will have more of an illustration of the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to setting up a ‘Super-City’. The idea of having one authority running transport is quite a temptation though, remembering that Christchurch currently has four separate council’s involved in transport policy! These are the type of areas where we will see most benefit, and where I think you can see it now with Auckland. What will be key will be striking a balance that ensures we get those benefits while maintaining the character and autonomy of separate communities. So long as the people of Christchurch and Canterbury are listened to and involved in the construction of such a ‘Super-City’ then we don’t necessarily have to go down the exact same Auckland track to get there, and can go our own way. Either way, what have we got to lose talking about it?
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