"The High Court has upheld the Northern Action Group’s appeal against a Local Government Commission decision refusing to assess an application to de-amalgamate North Rodney from Auckland Council. Justice David Collins has found that the Local Government Commission acted unlawfully in rejecting the application. It turned what should have been a simple filtering exercise into a mini-inquiry and irrelevantly took into account submissions by the Auckland Council.
The Court has referred the application back to the Commission. It would have directed the Commission to consider the application, but for the need for further supplementary information on boundaries and evidence of community support from greater Auckland. Once that information has been submitted, it is expected that the Commission will proceed to consider the application.
The Commission must then publicly consult on NAG’s proposal and request any alternative proposals. It is conceivable, for instance, that the rest of the former Rodney district might want to follow North Rodney in restoring the room for local initiatives.
The rural North Rodney community has never wanted to be a part of Auckland Council. The Select Committee considering the Auckland super city agreed with them, but the Government over rode its recommendations. North Rodney was then forced into the Auckland district, despite overwhelming opposition from its residents. Its experience of being part of the super city has served only to prove its initial concerns were justified. The community feels marginalised, disenfranchised and ripped off.
After the Auckland Council was set up, there was a three-year moratorium preventing reorganisation applications affecting it. That moratorium expired in October 2013. NAG applied to the Local Government Commission proposing that North Rodney secede from Auckland Council and set up its own unitary council. A poll showed an overwhelming 90% of North Rodney ratepayers support the proposal.
Justice Collins agreed with NAG that the “statutory grounds to decline to assess a reorganisation application must be exceptional”. He said the law’s intention was that “communities be the focal point of the way local government is organised” and “Parliament’s intention [is] that communities be more empowered to influence the basis upon which local government is reorganised”.
The Commission’s main reason for declining to assess the application was the impact it would have on Auckland Council. Justice Collins concluded the Commission should have been “extremely hesitant to consult with an affected local authority at the screening stage”. Instead of making a prompt evaluation of the Application “the Commission allowed itself to become engaged in an initial assessment in the merits of the Application…. and the arguments advanced by Auckland Council for opposing the Application”.
Justice Collin’s decision on the need to show some community support from the whole of the Auckland region is a challenge. The judge appreciated this “may seem inappropriate in the circumstances of the present case where the area governed by Auckland Council is large and diverse”. He said “it is conceivable that many people living within the district of the Auckland Council would have little to no knowledge of North Rodney”.
Gathering evidence of community support from across the greater Auckland region may seem a stretch for a small community group. But there is no requirement for any specific level of support. Fair-minded people across Auckland, concerned about the excesses of unchallengeable authority may support the restoration of genuine local self government for some people, even if it is only to send a message that there can be a remedy for high-handed treatment. "
A full copy of the ruling by Judge Collins is available here
"Putting the 'local' back into our Local Government"
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