John MacDonald: Is it time for a Christchurch super city?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
OPINION: I've got that old saying about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in my head today.

And it's why I think we need to seriously consider creating a Super City by merging the Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri councils.

I've thought this for some time, and I'm thinking about it again today for a couple of reasons.

The first is the uproar in Lincoln over this new housing development: 1700 new houses.

The Carter Family is behind it. They want to increase the number of houses in the Lincoln area by more than 50 per cent and chew up a huge chunk of farmland in the process.

So a truckload more houses and people, in an area with one high school and one medical centre which is already full and not taking on any new patients.

And this is why people already living in Lincoln aren't happy about it.

Which is where the "left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing" comes into it.

You may have heard about the Greater Christchurch Partnership. This is a group that all of the councils have involvement with - plus all the usual agencies like Christchurch NZ. And its job is to think about the long-term growth and development of the Greater Christchurch area over the next 30 years.

How the population is going to grow. Where all the extra people are going to live. All that stuff.

Now this proposed development at Lincoln is in an area outside the Greater Christchurch Partnership's urban boundary, so it's going to be up to the Selwyn District Council and only the Selwyn District Council to decide whether this thing goes ahead or not.

Which is nuts, especially when you've got the Christchurch City Council competing with Selwyn - and Waimakariri too for that matter - trying to get more people to come and live in the central city in Christchurch. Left hand, right hand. Working in isolation.

The other reason I'm thinking about merging the three councils and creating a new Super City council is the new stadium, Te Kaha.

As we know, it's looking like the Christchurch City Council is going to have to come up with a truckload more money - possibly as much as $50 million.

The Government isn't interested in putting more into it. So the council's going to have to front up, if it wants the thing to become reality.

Surely, it would be in a much better position if the rating bases of Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri were brought into one big pot by merging them all into one?

We've heard this week from some people living in Selwyn and Waimakariri who don't think their rates money should be going into the stadium - so you can bet your bottom dollar some of their local councillors won't be voting in favour of that. Because, as we know, politicians get spooked about brassing people off - especially when there's an election on the horizon.

So get all the councils under one roof and that wouldn't be an issue. It's a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned.

The Auckland Super City brought together seven city and district councils, and the regional council.

There was a bit of noise when it happened nearly 12 years ago. But I think over time it's shown that it can work.

Auckland these days has a mayor and 20 councillors. Christchurch city has a mayor and 15 councillors. Waimakariri has a mayor and 10 councillors and Selwyn has a mayor and 11 councillors.

So Auckland, a mayor and 20 councillors. Greater Christchurch - three mayors and 36 councillors. A bit over the top for the size of the place, don't you think? I think so.

Here in Canterbury, there were once all manner of borough councils - but they were swallowed up over time. Another amalgamation we've had here happened in 2006 when Banks Peninsula council joined up with Christchurch City.

The issue then was that Banks Peninsula didn't have a big enough population to get the rates it needed to operate properly. Selwyn and Waimakariri don't have that problem - they've grown massively since the earthquakes.

But all of these people are still coming in and out of Christchurch city. For example, nearly half of the people who live in Selwyn come into Christchurch every day to go to work or go to school in a private vehicle.

So they're using the city's roads - and so many of the other facilities - that they pay nothing for.

So I think more consolidation is needed - especially when you consider the financial burden being carried by the Christchurch City Council, pretty much on behalf of everyone else living in Waimakariri and Selwyn.

I know of one current Christchurch city councillor who is already in favour of a super city.

Mike Davidson has said previously that Christchurch city is funding expensive roads linking the city with Waimakariri and Selwyn - and the people living in these areas are getting the benefits without having to pay anything.

So the argument in favour of merging these three councils and creating a Greater Christchurch Super City is very strong, and I would support it 100 per cent.

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch


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