How many councillors, community boards?

How many councillors should we have?  Is it fair that some parts of the city have community boards, but others don’t?  Should we stick with the current wards/ward boundaries or should be they changed to reflect different ‘communities of interest’?

Local authorities in New Zealand are required to review their elected representation arrangements at least every six years.  Hutt City Council is due to conduct such a review before the 2025 election.

Current councillors at a visit to the Koraunui Hub in Stokes Valley earlier this year.

The first question before current councillors is whether we should establish a Māori ward or wards.  If we stick with the current number of councillors – 12 – we could have one Māori ward councillor.

Under local government legislation, we need to consider the views of Mana Whenua (Taranaki Whanui and Ngati Toa) on this.  When we asked at the time of the previous representation review in 2018, Mana Whenua representatives did not see a need for a Māori ward but initial feedback indicates that view may have changed.

At the last review, weighing up the different options for councillors, wards, community boards, etc., was done internally.  There were appeals to the Local Government Commission, which overturned the decision and ruled there would be 6 councillors elected from 6 wards, and another 6 councillors would be elected ‘citywide’.

This time, current councillors have decided an independent panel should carry out the review.  Existing councillors have a very direct stake in representation arrangements – some would argue a vested interest – and it was a unanimous decision to turn it over to an independent panel, with its members selected from diverse backgrounds and with useful experience.

The panel will be responsible for canvassing the options, getting feedback from residents, and making recommendations. It is due to report back in March next year.

It’s conceivable that the Council could turn down the panel’s recommendations, but very unlikely. If consultation has been robust and the process sound, we’d have little excuse not to accept the outcome.

No doubt the panel will have to grapple with the issue of community boards – an issue that has been batted to and fro by Hutt City Councils for several decades. 

In the forced amalgamation of the Lower Hutt, Petone, Eastbourne and Hutt County (Wainuiomata) Councils in 1989, a second tier of representation – community boards – were established in Eastbourne, Petone and Wainuiomata. 

They’ve survived ever since but opinions are mixed about them.  Some say they have little to do, and its unfair there is this extra level of representation in some parts of the city and not others, and they could be done away with.  But it’s also argued they should be given more responsibility, they’re a useful training ground for future councillors, and additional boards should be established in the northern, western and eastern parts of the city.

In an attempt to balance things up, four (unpaid) community panels in the other parts of the city existed for the last two trienniums.  They gave out in community grants an equivalent amount of the remuneration paid to community board members.  But with pressure on rates particularly intense this year, the four panels were dis-established, though a new Climate Change initiatives community fund with distribute grants.

Members of the independent representation review panel have now been selected, and residents can expect opportunities to put their views and thoughts to the panel in the coming months.  Those engagement opportunities will be widely advertised.

The review panel members are:

Mr Paul Swain (Panel Chair)

Mr Swain has extensive local and central government experience having served as a Councillor on the Greater Wellington Regional Council, as a Member of Parliament representing the Hutt Valley, and as a Cabinet Minister. He has chaired Government inquiries, reviews, boards and committees. As a former Chief Crown Negotiator for Treaty of Waitangi Settlements, Mr Swain is acutely aware of the importance of providing Mana Whenua with real opportunities to engage meaningfully in the decision-making process.

Mrs Ana So’otaga

Mrs So’otaga has a background leading local and national public policy, strategy, systems change, and equity-centred programme design and delivery. She is of Tokelau heritage and along with her family and four children has been born and raised in the Hutt Valley. Ana is well-connected to the Hutt Valley health, sports and Pacific community. She has held leadership roles at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and Te Awa Kairangi Primary Health Organisation and is now the Strategy and Performance lead with Sport New Zealand.

Sir (Tā) John Clarke

Sir John has over 40 years of management experience in a wide range of public sector environments including education, justice, health, housing, human rights, Crown Law, audit, social welfare, environment and heritage. He is a fluent speaker of Te Reo Māori and has a thorough understanding of Māori issues and wide networks within Māori communities. Sir John has played a major part in Māori-Crown relations and has been the principal cultural adviser to all Ministers of Treaty Settlements.

Ms Meenakshi Sankar

Ms Sankar is a highly experienced research and evaluation practitioner, internationally respected for her leadership in analysis and strategic thinking. Over the last 35 years, she has delivered evaluation assignments for a range of government agencies in New Zealand and multilateral agencies including UNESCO HQ and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Large-scale community engagement using participatory principles is central to her research and evaluation practice, and well demonstrated in her work for the Department of Labour, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Mr Matt Richardson

Mr Richardson is an accomplished project manager with expertise in delivering large-scale landscape and ecological mitigation projects across New Zealand. He is passionate about Lower Hutt and brings experience in engaging with a diverse mixture of community groups, including iwi representatives, on a range of projects.

Following engagement with the community, the panel will prepare a report with recommendations to Council based on what they heard. This will be considered and then presented to all Lower Hutt residents for consultation early next year.

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