City councillor's proposal to cut number of representatives slammed

James Gough.
James Gough.
Elected officials have spoken out against James Gough’s proposal to cut the number of Christchurch city councillors and community board members, but increase the areas they represent.

Gough, the city councillor for Fendalton Ward, wants to reduce the number of city councillors around the table from 16 to eight and cut the number of community boards from seven to four.

He says this would save $3 million a year, increase the quality of elected members and lead to less bureaucratic, “better decision making.”

As part of a representation review, which happens every six years, city council staff have recommended getting rid of the Linwood-Central-Heathcote Community Board, merging those areas into three existing community boards and maintaining a caucus of 16 city councillors.

Gough wants more to be done.

His proposal would see four community boards represent four wards – northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast. However, the number of board members representing these larger areas would be slashed from 37 to 20.

Under the proposal, Banks Peninsula Ward would become part of the southeast ward and there would no longer be a Central Ward. Each new ward would be responsible for a different section of the central city.

This has been slammed by Banks Peninsula Ward city councillor, Deputy Mayor Andrew Turner.

Andrew Turner.
Andrew Turner.
Turner told The Star this would make it much more difficult for grassroots community members to get elected, and community boards would have less members to represent more people in bigger wards.

"If I had a quarter of the city to look after, I just would not be able to do it.

"So, unless people are not going to be performing these roles properly, it just wouldn’t be possible to achieve anything approaching effective representation through the model that’s been proposed.

"The ability for people to successfully run for election in a ward which is a quarter of the city. The cost of doing that, the resources that would be required to do that and the kind of name recognition a person would need to have to do that successfully, really, would cut some people out of the opportunity to get elected," said Turner.

Gough said making Banks Peninsula part of the southeast ward would give its residents more of a say on Christchurch issues and everyday residents would have an equal chance of getting elected as anyone else.

Linwood-Central-Heathcote Community Board chairwoman Alexandra Davids agrees the workloads would be too much and is worried issues in areas like her’s would not get the attention they need.

"If you’re then doubling the constituents that you’re dealing with, that is massive, and how can you actually represent people when you are having to be on the phone all day? I would not even have time for making proper decisions,” she said.

Gough thinks workloads will be manageable for elected members.

Jake McLellan.
Jake McLellan.
If community boards are reduced to seven people each, as he is proposing, Gough said each member of the four boards would represent about “13,000 or 14,000 people.”

"That’s pretty manageable,” he said.

City councillor Jake McLellan said: “I am genuinely interested in looking at anything that might save the ratepayer a little bit of dosh, but I do have concerns that, actually, you might just be shuffling the money around and you may, at the same time, be removing the accessibility of elected members to their constituents.”

Gough plans to put forward his proposal at a city council meeting today.

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