UC-exit support grows

Calum MacLeod

Wānaka councillors say they understand the strong support for a petition calling for Upper Clutha to divorce Queenstown Lakes District Council.

But deputy-mayor Calum MacLeod has warned that separations are not simple, pointing to the “Brexit fiasco” which surrounded Britain’s move to leave the European Union.

 

Almost 1600 people have now signed the petition, a number which would trigger an investigation by the Local Government Commission.

 

The commission becomes part of the scenario once 10 percent of voters signed the petition. It would then consider whether the Upper Clutha should become a separate district, independent from QLDC, with its own local authority.

 

The man behind the petition, Dean Rankin, said the petition was continuing to receive strong support. The long-standing Wānaka resident’s profile has been given a significant lift as a result of his moves – and he was expecting to see national television coverage on the issue this week.

 

Wānaka has three elected lakes district councillors, and while they are prepared to talk about the issue, none would give a definitive yes or no when asked whether or not they supported the petition.

 

As the community mulls over going alone, the council itself is in the midst of a representation review which includes, as one option, abandoning the only Community Board under its wing – Wānaka.

 

The three Wānaka representatives are Calum MacLeod, who is also deputy-mayor, Quentin Smith and Niamh Shaw

 

“If you look at the Brexit fiasco - there was a great desire to leave Europe but the reality of doing that was not fully explored,” Calum MacLeod said.

 

As to his personal position – “I am duty bound to retain an open mind”.

 

He noted central government was carrying out a Representation Review and the initial feedback he had would suggest the country was heading for larger Councils – akin to regional bodies – not smaller units.

 

“I do feel generally that there is strength in numbers. We will always have a stronger voice nationally as a larger group.”

 

Quentin Smith backed an investigation into different options, “but I am under no illusion that there are significant challenges to succeeding and forming our own Council.”

He said it came as no surprise that Upper Clutha residents did not think being part of the QLDC was the best way forward.

“The pros are self-evident, in that we would be in charge of our own decision making and funding to the extent that local government has mandate - but there are cons and challenges as well that we need to understand.”

He said those challenges included the financial implications of such a move, the impact on rates, borrowing and capacity for investment and the economies of scale structurally.

He also said in most sectors the Upper Clutha has been “really poorly served by centralisation… centralisation through three waters, RMA reform and local government reform are a scary prospect for Wanaka.”

 

Niamh Shaw said it was clear people “in this area, particularly the smaller communities” were not happy with the way they were being represented at present and felt the QLDC was not adequately serving the Upper Clutha.

 

“I am fully supportive of a review and investigation of the representation of the Upper Clutha District by the Local Government Commission. I will also be advocating that QLDC thoroughly considers the community feedback from the Representation Review.

“This petition and the Representation Review are louder echoes of what this community has been saying for some time.

She said she was undecided whether splitting from QLDC would be the best solution.

“Having experienced the scale and complexity of what the QLDC deals with on a daily basis, I believe establishing a standalone council would be a mammoth project. I am supportive of changes to improve the current system, whether that be a fully supported and enabled Community Board, and/or a greater concentration of staff in the Upper Clutha.”


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