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Communities of interest matter

Opinion Piece

Clear differences between the needs of urban and rural communities have been seen by the Local Government Commission in its decision to retain the status quo for representation at the local body elections in October.

The commission surprised many with its decision to keep the present wards (four rural and one urban) for the election, despite the fact that it is non-compliant with the requirements of the Act — while the district council’s proposal of nine councillors and a mayor was.

The commission identifies three key considerations in representation reviews: communities of interest, effective representation of communities of interest, and fair representation for electors.

Its three dimensions for recognising communities of interest are perceptual (a sense of identity and belonging to a defined area or locality); functional (the ability of the area to meet the needs of communities for services such as local schools, shopping areas and recreational facilities); and political (the ability to represent the interests of local communities).

In the case of this district, quite clearly there are communities of interest based on differences between rural and urban, and on the location and characteristics of individual communities.

This was a clear theme of views at the hearing of submissions on the council’s proposal, and the commission says the distinction is easily discernible in this district. The council also recognised that in the three areas proposed for its community boards.

The commission’s guidelines identify these factors to consider when determining effective representation: avoiding arrangements that may create barriers to participation, not splitting recognised communities, not grouping two or more communities that share few commonalities of interest and accessibility; the size and configuration of an area — including access to elected members.

In its decision, the commission said the existing ward structure enabled effective representation by reflecting communities of interest, and that effective representation was provided by the current number of 13 councillors.