Council quagmire


Local councils are “dreadfully under-resourced”, a departing Queenstown councillor says.

And, she warns, central government is heaping more responsibility on councils but not giving them the tools to match.

Two-term councillor Alexa Forbes, who’s leaving council in October and taking a tilt at the Otago Regional Council instead, says it’s “incredibly difficult to be autonomous and independent”.

“Certainly I think local government is dreadfully under-resourced.

“People want us to respond really, really quickly, or even be proactive, and it is unbelievably difficult to be so, and I’m only not saying impossible because I don’t believe anything’s impossible.”

She’s also unimpressed with the legislation councils have to work within.

“We’re still seriously constrained by the Local Government Act and Resource Management Act (RMA) that have timeframes that are very difficult for us to meet.

“I really believe the RMA has been captured by profiteering interests.”

She says the checks and balances on councils are strong, so they “can’t stuff it up”.

“We maybe, if we’re really lucky, get to move the dial an inch.

“You don’t get the opportunity to come in and make radical change, that’s not how local government works.”

Forbes isn’t the only one taking a swipe at those in the Beehive.

Arrowtown ward councillor Scott Stevens is also stepping down in October.

He has similar concerns around the constraints on councils, particularly around urban growth.

He says: “Basically it’s a gun to your head from central government, either release the land, get the housing in, or we’ll do it for you.

“Unfortunately, the way the Local Government Act works, the local body has very limited ability to slow, and we definitely don’t have the ability to stall, urban growth.

“We can control, to a certain extent, where housing goes.

“But if we don’t allow for that urban growth, we’re going to have central government stepping in on us.”

He says that’s tough for councillors to deal with – “we might not agree with it, but we’ve got to come up with something”.

“The new government has come in with exactly the same kind of target for urban growth as the previous gov-ernment.

“Exactly the same rhetoric’s coming down and that’s a real challenge,” Stevens says.