Democracy in Queenstown Lakes

Lake Wanaka. Pnoto: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
One headline proposal in the review of Queenstown Lakes representation is the abolition of the Wanaka Community Board.

Potentially contentious, too, is whether an Arrowtown ward should be retained.

But there are also other matters worth debating, including whether the present Queenstown-Wakatipu ward should be split in two as recommended.

While further steps are required, these plans have the momentum and inside running.

These reviews are every six years. The consultation finishes on August 6 and submission hearings are planned for August 26 in Queenstown and a day later in Wanaka.

Staff expect to take the final proposal to the council in mid-September. The new arrangements will take effect for next year’s election.

The time for community debate is therefore now.

Queenstown Lakes is unusual in its geography, a well-defined split either side of the Crown Range.

This, and the risk of the Wanaka-side being swamped by greater numbers was a strong contention for the community board.

The review, however, points out the board adds another layer of bureaucracy, and it is inconsistent for just one area to be represented by a board.

Representation across districts varies widely. Dunedin, for example, has community boards for only some parts of the city. These boards have few powers.

Central Otago, in contrast, is divided into boards with much more influence. Rates are set around these areas.

Wanaka reaction to the proposed abolition of its busy board has been surprisingly subdued so far.

The number of councillors from Wanaka would increase by one to four. It has been argued four capable representatives could be effective on the matter of local knowledge and concerns.

The review also proposed abolishing the single-member Arrowtown ward. This was overturned on Mayor Jim Boult’s casting vote as consultation began.

His vote, it seems, was partly motivated to make sure the process would not be delayed.

Reaction in Arrowtown had been vociferous once news of the ward’s proposed demise spread. This is clearly a matter of contention, and a matter of Arrowtown identity.

It should be noted, though, that any Arrowtown ward member would have just one vote among the proposed 12.

As well, all councillors are supposed, by law, to act for the greater good of the whole district.

There is also an issue with the town’s population, numbers struggling to be sufficient to fit within the legal parameters.

Balanced against the value of a specific councillor for the town is the limited influence voters have in divided wards.

In an area as small as the Queenstown side of QLDC, Arrowtown voters might want to choose or often just as significantly reject other council candidates.

That might be for personality, perceived ability or outlook and ideological reasons. They do not get that opportunity if restricted to just one candidate in Arrowtown.

A similar principle applies to the splitting of the rest of the Wakatipu side into two wards, Wakatipu with four councillors and Kawarau with three (four if Arrowtown were to be included).

This is justified because the Kawarau ward represents a community of interest of largely new or developing communities.

That seems to be clutching at reasons. Perhaps, there is a concern that one ward at eight (seven if Arrowtown is excluded) would have double Wanaka’s representation.

Hanging over this are the Three Waters reforms and the Resource Management Act replacements. They would gut much of the council functions between them.

As well, the Government is reviewing local Government and some believe Queenstown Lakes could end up with Central Otago.

Whatever the future holds, the QLDC and the people of the district have to forge ahead on present circumstances.

Representation arrangements underpin local democracy and require debate and careful consideration.

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