The Government introduced a new Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2) today which makes various tweaks to the rules around local government mergers. The good news: all such merges will once again have to be approved by a referendum in the affected area. The referendum will still be decided by a simple majority, rather than having to have majority support in every affected area (so big councils can outvote and eat small ones if they have the support of their voters to do so), but its far better than the current situation, where a poll doesn't need to be held at all.
The bad news: the bill will allow for
the same local authority to act as a unitary authority (as both territorial authority and regional council) in one district and as regional council only in another district that has its own territorial authority
...and whose voters have no say in the composition of the new supercouncil. So its a way to remove decisions about air and water quality and make them the preserve of trusted voters, while cutting evrybody else out.
I'm wondering if this is National's endgame for ECan: Christchurch voters keep wanting clean water, so make Ashburton (or other dipshit rural) council the "regional" council and deprive those troublesome urban voters of any say over the issue. But because its a general provision, Christchurch voters could submit their own reorganisation proposal and get in first, then outvote the rest of the region to control all the water themselves! Either alternative would obviously be deeply undemocratic, but its what National is setting us up for.
The other bad news: National will be able to strap the chicken on reorganisations by being able to "specify expectations" to the Local Government Commission. Not on any particular proposal, of course - that would be too overt - but they could e.g. specify that it should approve all mergers, or refuse to allow urban areas control of water. The Local Government Commission also ultimately decides local body representation schemes, including electoral boundaries and the system used. So National could also require the Commission to push for at-large election and oppose shifts to STV, for example, or to grant greater electoral weight to rural areas, or to cap council sizes to reduce representation.
Overall, this bill is another attack on local body democracy, and the core of it needs to be opposed.