Possible Future Trends in Local Government
The two basic weaknesses of the local government structure are the number and variety of special-purpose authorities and the excessive number of territorial authorities. The special-purpose authorities in general are subject to a considerable degree of direction by the Central Government. Moreover, they exercise functions which in some instances at least might otherwise be exercised by territorial authorities, especially if the territorial structure was strengthened by amalgamation of smaller and weaker units. The excessive number of territorial authorities means that some of them are too small and consequently have inadequate resources, a fact which limits their ability to perform satisfactorily the functions demanded by a rapidly growing community and expanding economy, at least without substantial financial assistance by the Central Government. This assistance once again tends to increase the extent of direction by Central Government.
The fragmented and heterogeneous character of the local government system as a whole raises difficult problems in the planning, coordination, and execution of regional works and services involving several local authorities. These problems are rapidly becoming increasingly crucial, especially in the large centres of rapidly expanding urban population. Although regional planning authorities are now in being it remains difficult to secure effective joint planning and to put plans into effect.
Modern communications and transport and the steady urbanisation of county areas adjacent to municipalities are rapidly breaking down the earlier distinction between urban and rural interests, but this development is not being accompanied by appropriate readjustment of the territorial local government structure.
It was considerations of this kind which moved the Government in 1962, acting on the recommendation of the 1960 Select Committee, to empower the Local Government Commission to bring down proposals for new forms of local government in appropriate areas. The Local Government Commission is already engaged in preliminarily discussing with local authorities the question of progressively establishing regional-type local authorities in certain areas. Moreover, in 1962 a committee of local authority representatives established under a special Act in 1960 for the purpose of studying and bringing down legislative proposals for a regional local authority in the Auckland urban area introduced a local Bill into Parliament. This Bill proposed the establishment of a regional authority which would carry out regional works and services over the districts of 32 municipalities and counties and which would, in the process, assume the functions of most special-purpose authorities in the region. It proposed that the regional authority be also the regional planning authority for the region. The Bill was held over by Parliament in its 1962 session. A substantially modified measure was eventually passed in 1963.
It is possible that in the years to come reform of the local government structure will be approached by progressively reducing the number of local authorities by way of merger and amalgamations effected by the Local Government Commission, accompanied by the establishment of regional authorities in particular areas in which regional problems are most acute.
The regional authority established in Auckland is what is known as a two-tier type, the essence of which is that the regional authority exercises powers and functions of a regional nature, including the functions performed by special-purpose authorities, while the territorial authorities remain in existence to perform purely local functions. This is perhaps the type of regional authority most likely to be acceptable in New Zealand. It involves less radical change than other types, such as the multipurpose authority, can be adapted to the existing structure fairly readily, and retains an avenue whereby citizens may perform a public service by taking part in territorial local government.
by Bryan David Crompton, M.A., Executive Officer, Advisory and Research Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington and Herbert Williamson, Research Officer, Local Government Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1959, B. 4, “Report of the Royal Commission on Local Body Finance”
- 1945, I. 15, and 1960, I. 18, “Reports of Local Bills Committee on the Structure of Local Government in New Zealand”;Local Government in New Zealand, Polaschek, R. J., ed. (1956).