New Zealand’s local government system comprises two sets of local authorities’ that work together and balance each other out – regional councils and territorial authorities (city and district councils). It sounds pretty unexciting at first, and maybe it is a little bit, but the decisions city councils make have a massive impact on our communities, effecting our local environments even more than some decisions that come from the top government.

The purpose of local government is to enable democratic local decision-making and action on behalf of communities. They are there to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities in the present and for the future. The role of local authorities is to lead and represent their communities. They must engage with their communities and encourage community participation in decision-making, while considering the needs of people currently living in communities and those who will live there in the future.

The responsibilities of a city council in their territorial authorities include looking after things such as sustainable district well-being and the provision of local infrastructure, including water, sewerage, stormwater, roads. They are in charge of environmental safety and health, district emergency management and civil defence preparedness, building control, public health inspections and other environmental health matters. The council also control the effects of land use (including hazardous substances, natural hazards and indigenous biodiversity), noise, and the effects of activities on the surface of lakes and rivers.

The powers and responsibilities of city and district councils are all the same – both are territorial authorities. The only difference is that city councils serve a population of more than 50,000 in a mainly urban area. In the six months after every local authority election, a region’s councils meet to discuss how they will work together, and document this in a triennial agreement. They can set up formal arrangements – such as joint committees or council organisations, or informal arrangements, such as a Mayoral Forum or a Regional Forum, to help achieve common outcomes.

So how can you get involved? There are many different ways people can participate in local government and be involved in council decision-making processes. These can include voting for council, standing as a candidate for council, making a submission on the boundaries for wards and constituencies. You can also contribute to a consultation or make a submission on a council plan or other proposal. Another great way to get involved is to attend council meetings. The greater the participation levels in communities, the more likely council decisions and actions will match short and long-term community objectives.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. What is the most important aspect of City Council’s?

2. Why should we get involved in City Council’s now and not wait until later on in life?

3. What are some more benefits of having a City Council making local decisions and not having all decisions being made by the top government?

Practical Thinking Questions:

1. Ask your teachers at school how they would feel about getting the class involved in City Council decisions.

2. Write a letter to your local representative on an issue you are passionate about. See what they have to say about how this can be improved in your local area?

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