The Department of Internal Affairs

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Local Government in New Zealand - Local Councils


Councils' roles and functions

New Zealand’s local government system comprises two complementary sets of local authorities – regional councils and territorial authorities (city and district councils).

What do our councils do?

A quick look at the Local Government Act 2002 shows the expectations of councils, briefly–

The purpose of local government is –

  • To enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities
  • To meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses. (Local Government Act 2002, section 10 (1)).

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 Local Government Act 2002, section 12(2), gives councils wide scope to do anything within the context of the purpose of local government.

The Act requires all councils to –

  • Separate policy setting from operational functions as far as possible.
  • Prepare long-term plans (LTPs), annual plans and budgets in consultation with their communities.
  • Report annually on performance in relation to their plans.
  • Prepare long-term financial strategies including funding, financial management and investment policies.

The Local Government Act 2002 also makes it clear that councils have a variety of other statutory responsibilities. These are mostly in other Acts such as the Resource Management Act 1991, the Building Act 2004, and the Biosecurity Act 1993.

Regional Councils

Regional councils’ responsibilities include –

  • Sustainable regional well-being.
  • Managing the effects of using freshwater, land, air and coastal waters, by developing regional policy statements and the issuing of consents.
  • Managing rivers, mitigating soil erosion and flood control.
  • Regional emergency management and civil defence preparedness.
  • Regional land transport planning and contracting passenger services.
  • Harbour navigation and safety, oil spills and other marine pollution.

Territorial Authorities (district and city councils)

Territorial authorities’ responsibilities include –

  • Sustainable district well-being.
  • The provision of local infrastructure, including water, sewerage, stormwater, roads.
  • Environmental safety and health, district emergency management and civil defence preparedness, building control, public health inspections and other environmental health matters.
  • Controlling 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 predominantly urban area.

Six of the territorial authorities also have the powers of a regional council, making them unitary authorities. These are Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Marlborough, Tasman District and the Chatham Islands Council.

How councils work together

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.