Quarrel over community board continues

Wanaka Community Board members listen as Lakeland Adventures Wanaka director Michael Donald...
Wanaka Community Board members listen as Lakeland Adventures Wanaka director Michael Donald speaks during the public forum at the last meeting held in the Luggate temporary community hall. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH
The future of the Wanaka Community Board is uncertain as the Queenstown Lakes District Council examines how best the Upper Clutha can be represented. Kerrie Waterworth looks at both sides of the argument. 

At the last Wanaka Community Board meeting held in the Luggate temporary community hall, only one person turned up to speak during the public forum.

Lakeland Adventures Wanaka director Michael Donald was there to seek help from the board in his dealings with the council over where he was allowed to take bookings for his water sports business.

A recent full-page advertisement placed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council in the weekly...
A recent full-page advertisement placed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council in weekly Wanaka and Queenstown community newspapers about the proposed changes to representation in the area. IMAGE:QLDC
"I feel that, for me personally, it is easier to talk to the community board because it is at the community level and going to the stage of council is a lot more daunting," Mr Donald said.

"I prefer the community board option because they are on the ground here, they know what is happening."

But interaction like this might soon become a thing of the past.

There has always been more than just the Crown Range dividing Queenstown and Wanaka.

Historically, Wanaka had been part of the Central Otago district Vincent ward but following the local government reforms in 1989 all that changed.

The Upper Clutha became part of the Queenstown Lakes district and the Wanaka Community Board was created to represent what the local government commission defined as a "distinct community of interest".

Former deputy mayor Lyal Cocks served on the Wanaka Community Board for 12 years, six years as chairman, and was the Zone 6 representative on the national community boards’ executive committee for most of that time.

He does not support abolishing the board.

"The Wanaka Community Board is extremely important. If you look at the Wanaka ward and the geography of the Queenstown Lakes District Council, it is almost exactly why community boards were established under the local electoral Act — there is significant geographic separation.

"But also there is the difference in community interest and the ability for people to be face to face with their elected members."

With no community board, the Wanaka community would not only lose effective representation but would also lose the only legal entity that could make decisions locally, he said.

Hawea local Rachel Brown was chairwoman of the community board from 2013 to 2019.

"I remember the projects and decisions we were involved with required intimate knowledge of the community and place.

"For instance, the Wanaka lakefront development plan involved balancing the needs and wants of many user groups, road names that didn’t fit normal criteria needed local knowledge to decide suitability, prioritising road and reserve improvement budgets required effective liaison with community associations.

"Do we want these decisions made by council staff?"

Ms Brown said she found many decisions were delegated to the chief executive in Queenstown.

"This is called business efficiency, which I do not believe is the same as effective democracy," Ms Brown said.

However, not everyone agrees Wanaka needs the community board for its concerns to be heard over the hill.

Wanaka ward councillor Quentin Smith was a board member before he became a Wanaka ward councillor and takes a different position to Ms Brown and Mr Cocks.

"Unfortunately, I think the board has become ineffectual over time. You only need to look at the agenda for the last couple of years to see that the business of the board is pretty light on substance.

"I think the board also struggles because it is the only board in the district, so structurally it is anomalous in the district.

"The delegations of the board in the rest of the district easily slot into committee structures with the infrastructure committee, community and services committee and parking and traffic subcommittee fulfilling most of those functions."

Cr Smith said he believed a fourth councillor for the Upper Clutha would help spread the workload on important issues for the community.

There are 110 community boards around New Zealand, 25 of which are in Otago and Southland.

In the neighbouring Central Otago district there are four community boards and further south the Southland district has eight.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said the area community boards probably held the most delegated authority of any in New Zealand.

Every resident was served by a community board, he said.

"Those two factors put our board structure out on a limb compared to the rest of the local government sector in New Zealand."

Southland Mayor Gary Tong said his district was very large geographically with diverse communities, all with their own requirements.

"All councillors and myself as mayor swear an oath to consider the district in any decisions and, to do this appropriately, council needs to understand and consider the views of those elected from within their respective community board areas.

"Personally, I don’t believe there is a more effective way of doing this within our district," Mr Tong said.

Principal policy adviser at Local Government New Zealand Mike Reid said in his experience community boards were "very effective" but it depended on how they were treated by councils.

"Their effectiveness depends on whether the council gives them powers or not and whether the council gives them support.

"So, in some areas, boards are not that effective because council does not give them support and may not give them any decision-making role and so it really comes down to local context," Mr Reid said.

Ms Brown said she decided to step down as chairwoman of the Wanaka Community Board because it had become "too hard".

"I definitely had to work hard all the time to make sure things that were meant to come across the table did come across the table because it is quite specific what the board is tasked with.

"Sometimes you would get ‘Oh it is too late now. It has to go straight to council’ and I would not allow that to happen."

Ms Brown said there were some important local issues such as the proposed re-development and expansion of Wanaka Airport that never appeared on the board agenda.

"I could never quite get to the bottom of that one. It was always ‘not now but later’, or ‘we are still doing research, we still are coming up with a plan, when we have made a decision then it will be discussed’."

Under the Local Electoral Act, local authorities were required to review their representation agreements at least once every six years.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council convened a seven member independent advisory group at the start of the year and it met on four occasions.

The group’s recommendation — 12 councillors across three new wards (four councillors per ward) and the district should have no community boards — was presented to councillors in a workshop. There was no formal written report.

Councillors voted to accept the recommendation at the last council meeting, and an amendment to retain an Arrowtown councillor passed only with Mayor Jim Boult’s casting vote.

Mr Reid said community boards were only one of the tools giving communities a voice, but there were others.

However, he said Wanaka could apply to become its own council if it wanted.

"Within our legalisation we can de-amalgamate. You just apply to the Local Government Commission."

Mr Reid said the final decision on how the district would be represented would be made following Local Government Commission hearings towards the end of the year.

He urged residents of Upper Clutha to make a submission as only submitters to the council draft recommendations would be entitled to make a follow-up presentation to the commissioners.



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