News | 15 July 2022

What will local government look like in 2025?

This is the fifth of the five major challenges facing the capital, as laid out in Wellington City Council’s Pre-Election Report for 2022. This report is produced every three years before the local body elections to provide information and promote public discussion about the issues facing the local authority.

Animated image of the beehive.

The way that local government works is changing, and may look very different by 2025. There could be fundamental changes to how the sector is structured and what services Councils will deliver.

Over the previous three years central government has undertaken a significant programme of reforms that affects local government. 

As well as the three key reforms detailed below, central government is in varying stages of delivering transformation programmes in the health and disability and vocational education sectors, as well as reviewing the regulatory frameworks supporting emergency management, waste minimisation, housing and urban development, climate change, and the central government regional leadership framework. Combined, this programme of policy development and reform is beginning to change the services Wellington City Council delivers and how we deliver them.

The Government's reform agenda.

Reform overview

The local government sector is going through fundamental change to how it is structured, what services the sector delivers, and how it delivers these services. These reforms are addressing complex issues which may collectively affect a large portion of council services. It is likely that the local government sector will look very different by 2025, the end of the next triennium.

The Council is currently participating in the reforms’ consultation and feedback programmes and doing work to understand how much the Council’s services will be impacted. A period of transition is anticipated for the Council over the coming years.

The Council will continue to respond to, engage with Wellingtonians on, and put the Government’s programme of reforms in place as they progress.

Three Waters Reform
In response to mounting challenges faced in the delivery of three waters services across New Zealand, the government announced the Three Waters Reform Programme to improve the regulation and service delivery arrangements of drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater.

To improve these services, the reforms propose to shift all of the councils’ three waters assets into four separate publicly owned entities which will manage the delivery of services and investment in infrastructure. The government also established Taumata Arowai, which is the new water services regulator for New Zealand.

The government brought a Bill to Parliament to establish the four new water services entities, operationalising them from 1 July 2024.

Resource Management reform
In February 2021, the government announced that it would replace the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) with a new legislative framework, reflecting that the RMA has not delivered the desired environmental and development outcomes, and does not consistently give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi/ the Treaty of Waitangi.

This new legislative framework will include the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), Strategic Planning Act (SPA), and Climate Adaptation Act (CAA). The NBA will act as the primary replacement of the RMA, focusing on protecting and restoring the environment while enabling development; the SPA will require spatial planning to be undertaken at a regional level rather than a local level, helping to coordinate and integrate decision making, and the CAA will address issues related to the managed retreat of communities from coastal environments. 

Together, the purpose of this new framework is to support the protection and restoration of the environment, guide long-term regional spatial planning, and address issues associated with climate change adaptation.

Future for Local Government Review
In 2021, the government appointed a panel to identify how our system of local democracy and governance needs to evolve over the next 30 years to improve the wellbeing of New Zealand communities and the environment, and to actively embody the Treaty partnership.

The scope of this local government review covers all aspects of local government, including the functions, roles, and structures of local government; relationships between local government, central government, iwi, Māori, businesses, communities, and other organisations; the embodiment of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and funding and financing arrangements.

As a result of the Review Panel’s engagement process over the past 12 months, five key shifts for the local government system have been identified.

These shifts consider how to:

  • strengthen local democracy
  • have a stronger focus on wellbeing
  • build and maintain authentic relationships with hapū/ iwi/ Māori
  • have genuine partnership between local and central government
  • establish a more equitable funding approach for local government’s activities.

Read the full Pre-Election Report