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The statutory framework of New Zealand's local government sector: is the key legislation working properly?

Local government Law New Zealand
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Local Goverment New Zealand (LGNZ) commissioned this paper which takes a high-level look at the interrelationships between the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA), the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA). It comments on the coherence of the statutory framework for local government and on how this statutory framework is holding up in the face of current challenges.

The major finding is that overall the statutory framework for local government in New Zealand as provided for in the LGA, RMA and LTMA is not broken, but simply worse for wear. For so long as the purpose of local government includes enabling democratic local decisionmaking and action by, and on behalf of, communities, the consultation and engagement focus in the LGA remains appropriate. Establishing local mandates for infrastructure and its funding takes time. 

The other key findings are;

  • The three statutes were originally well-aligned. Each of the Acts (especially the LGA and RMA) was the product of a comprehensive policy debate producing robust, coherent legislation. This is shown by the high degree of initial alignment amongst the purpose provisions of the three Acts;
  • Amendments have eroded the alignment. Over the past decade or so, there has been a noticeable trend showing a reduction in the alignment of the three Acts. Multiple recent legislative changes, particularly to the LGA and RMA, have undermined the coherence and commonality of purpose of the three Acts;
  • Focus on economic efficiency at the expense of local democracy. There has been a trend in recent legislative amendments away from local democracy and toward economic efficiency. Recent changes to the LGA and RMA have had the effect of limiting local decisionmaking and public participation and had an emphasis on "efficient" outcomes rather than quality ones with wider or longer term benefits
  • Recent legislative change has been somewhat hasty. Recent amendments to the legislative framework have been reactive. They have focussed on specific issues, some of those being real (for example, housing affordability crises in certain urban areas) and others more perceived (for example, unconstrained scope of local authority activity), with the aim being to achieve quick solutions. 
  • Less haste, more coherence. Better outcomes would be achieved by taking more time to develop coherent, sustainable enhancements to the existing legislation.


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