Explainer: Wanaka Potential Secession

October 28, 2021

Recently the Otago Daily Times reported Wanaka resident Dean Rankin had launched a petition to the Local Government Commission asking them to investigate options for Wanaka and Upper Clutha to secede from the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

The petitioners believe the District Council is too ‘Queenstown-centric’, and that the Council’s management of development and infrastructure for Wanaka and Upper Clutha has fallen by the wayside despite their rapid growth. The petition now has the required number of signatures for the Local Government Commission to launch in investigation into whether it is desirable to reorganize local government in the region.  

In 2015, Franks Ogilvie acted for Auckland’s Northern Action Group, who similarly wanted North Rodney removed from Auckland Council control. They successfully challenged the Commission’s decision not to assess the Group’s application because it was not of public interest. The Commission was ordered to reassess the Group’s application and give the Group an opportunity to present its case with greater detail. The Group challenged the Commission subsequent findings that reorganisation was not the preferred option in 2019, but was unsuccessful.

Legal requirements and steps for reorganisation

The Local Government Act 2002 sets out the powers and duties of local governments, specifics on how they are to be run and how local governments can reorganize. While the primary provisions for giving effect to reorganisation are housed in Part 3 of the Act, most of steps in the legal process are detailed in Schedule 3 of the Act, and is carried out by the Local Government Commission.

One - Initiative or petition

The reorganisation process is initiated when the criteria under Sch 3 cl 3 of the Act are met. Either the Minister for Local Government or an affected local authority proposes a “reorganisation initiative”, or the Commission receives a petition of 10% of electors from a given area requesting an investigation. The request must contain all the necessary criteria listed in cl 4.

Upon receiving an initiative or request, the Commission decides whether to undergo an investigation having regard to mandatory considerations under cl 6, such as the cost of an investigation, and the likely improvements that may result from an investigation.

The Commission then gives notice of its decision.

Two - The Commission undertakes an investigation

The Commission then establishes an investigation process under cl 7. The process document details the instigation, its timetable, the key stakeholders, and how members of the effected community will be consulted.

The objectives of the investigation are listed in cl 10. Considering them, the Commission assesses the desirability of reorganisation or whether the status quo should be maintained. These objectives include better fulfillment of local representation, and effectiveness and efficiently of local authorities.

The Commission may request the assistance or consult anyone it considers appropriate in coming to its determination under cl8.

Three - Reorganisation Plan

If reorganisation is deemed preferable, the Commission can develop a ‘reorganisation plan’ under cl 12. An adopted plan must detail the requisite matters listed in cl 14.

Where the reorganisation plan is developed by the Commission, the plan must be polled among the electors of the affected local government under cl 25. If more than 50% of the votes are in favour of the plan the Minister for Local Government must recommend giving effect to the plan in an Order in Council under s 25.

If a local government develops its own plan, it is required to conduct public consultation while developing it. The local government then submits the plan to the Commission for approval under cl 22C.If approved, the Minister must consider whether recommend giving effect to the plan in an Order in Council under s 25.

Four - Implementation Scheme

Finally, the Commission prepares an ‘implementation scheme’ under cl 41, which sets out how the reorganisation plan will be implemented. A scheme is then given effect by an Order in Council under s 26. Afterwards the affected local governments are reorganised.


Transition bodies

“Transition bodies” may be set up when an Order in Council gives effect to a reorganisation plan under cl 34. They undertake the responsibilities given to them by the Order in Council and work with the Commission by giving effect to its decisions. These bodies can continue to operate until the implementation scheme is completed.

There is no set time, but the process can take up more than three years to complete. For example, the West Coast underwent reorganisation in 2019 after the Commission first receiving a request in2015.  It is unlikely that Mr Rankin and his petitions will see a Wanaka secession before the next local government election.


 If you would like further information on local government reorganisation, please contact Director Stephen Franks.


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