Local government in New Zealand

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New Zealand is a unitary state rather than a federation—regions are created by the authority of the central government, rather than the central government being created by the authority of the regions. Local government in New Zealand has only the powers conferred upon it by Parliament. These powers have traditionally been distinctly fewer than in some other countries. For example, police and education are run by central government, while the provision of low-cost housing is optional for local councils.

As defined in the Local Government Act 2002, the purpose of local government is:

  • to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and
  • 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.[1]

As of 2017 there are seventy-eight local authorities (regions, cities and districts) representing all areas of New Zealand.[2]


New Zealand has two tiers of local government. The top tier consists of regional councils, of which there are eleven.[2] The second tier consists of territorial authorities, of which there are sixty-seven.[2] The territorial authorities comprise thirteen city councils (including Auckland Council), fifty-three district councils and Chatham Islands Council.[3][4] Five territorial authorities are also unitary authorities, which perform the functions of a regional council in addition to those of a territorial authority. Most territorial authorities are wholly within one region, but there are a few that cross regional boundaries. In each territorial authority there are commonly several community boards, which form the lowest and weakest arm of local government.[5] The outlying Chatham Islands have a council with its own special legislation, constituted with powers similar to those of a unitary authority.[6]

Each of the regions and territorial authorities is governed by a council, which is directly elected by the residents of that region, district or city. Each council may use a system chosen by the outgoing council (after public consultation), either the bloc vote (viz. first past the post in multi-member constituencies) or single transferable vote.[7]

The external boundaries of an authority can be changed by an Order in Council or notices in the New Zealand Gazette.[8]

Local government jurisdictions


Regional councils all use a constituency system for elections, and the elected members elect one of their number to be chairperson. Regional councils are funded through rates, subsidies from central government, income from trading, and user charges for certain public services.[9] Councils set their own levels of rates, though the mechanism for collecting it usually involves channelling through the territorial authority collection system.[10] Regional council duties include:

Cities and districts

The territorial authorities consist of thirteen city councils, fifty-three district councils and one special council for the Chatham Islands.[3] A city is defined in the Local Government Act 2002 as an urban area with 50,000 residents.[1] A district council serves a combination of rural and urban communities. Each generally has a ward system of election, but an additional councillor is the mayor, who is elected at large and chairs the council.[1] They too set their own levels of rates.[10] Territorial authorities manage the most direct government services, such as water supply and sanitation, public transport, libraries, museums and recreational facilities.[12]

The territorial authorities may delegate powers to local community boards. The boundaries of community boards may be reviewed before each triennial local government election; this is provided for in the Local Electoral Act 2001.[13] These boards, instituted at the behest of either local citizens or territorial authorities, advocate community views but cannot levy taxes, appoint staff, or own property.[4]

District health boards

New Zealand's health sector was restructured several times during the 20th century. The most recent restructuring occurred in 2001, with new legislation creating twenty-one district health boards (DHBs). These boards are responsible for the oversight of health and disability services within their communities.[14] Seven members of each district health board are directly elected by residents of their area using the single transferable vote system. In addition, the Minister of Health may appoint up to four members. There are currently twenty DHBs.[14]


The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces. These provinces were largely autonomous, each with an elected council and an elected chief official, called a superintendent.[15] Provinces were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised, for financial reasons.[16] As a result, New Zealand has no separately represented subnational entities such as provinces, states or territories, apart from local government. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays[17] and sporting rivalries.[18] Since 1876, local authorities have administered the various regions of New Zealand.

In the 1989 reforms, the central government completely reorganised local government, implementing the current two-tier structure of regions and territorial authorities constituted under the Local Government Act 2002.[1] The Resource Management Act 1991 replaced the Town and Country Planning Act as the main planning legislation for local government.[11]

Auckland Council is the newest local authority. It was created on 1 November 2010, combining the functions of the existing regional council and the region's seven previous city and district councils into one "super-city".[19][20][21] It brings the number of unitary authorities in New Zealand to five.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Local Government Act 2002 No 84 (as at 01 March 2016), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c "Local government in New Zealand". localcouncils.govt.nz. Department of Internal Affairs. 
  3. ^ a b "Council Profiles by Type". Department of Internal Affairs. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c Gillespie, Carol Ann. New Zealand. Infobase Publishing. pp. 60–61. ISBN 9781438105246. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  5. ^ "Glossary". localcouncils.govt.nz. Department of Internal Affairs. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  6. ^ "Chatham Islands Council Act 1995 No 41 (as at 01 July 2013), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  7. ^ "2007 Local Elections". Elections New Zealand. Archived from the original on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  8. ^ "Local government boundaries". Local Government Commission. Retrieved 31 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Derby, Mark (17 February 2015). "Local and regional government". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  10. ^ a b "Local Government (Rating) Act 2002". localcouncils.govt.nz. Department of Internal Affairs. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  11. ^ a b "Resource Management Act 1991 No 69 (as at 13 December 2016), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  12. ^ a b "Your Local Council" (PDF). localcouncils.govt.nz. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  13. ^ "Local Electoral Act 2001 No 35 (as at 26 March 2015), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  14. ^ a b "District health boards". Ministry of Health. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  15. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (20 June 2012). "Colonial and provincial government – Colony and provinces, 1852 to 1863". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  16. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (20 June 2012). "Colonial and provincial government – Julius Vogel and the abolition of provincial government". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  17. ^ "Holidays and anniversary dates (2017–2020)". Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  18. ^ "Overview – regional rugby". nzhistory.govt.nz. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 30 October 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  19. ^ Thompson, Wayne (28 March 2009). "Super-city tipped to save $113m a year". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 February 2017. 
  20. ^ "Background information". Auckland Council. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  21. ^ "Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 No 32 (as at 10 May 2016), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 

External links

  • Local Councils – Official website (maintained by the Department of Internal Affairs)
  • Envirolink – a regional council driven funding scheme
  • Relevant legislation – legislation.govt.nz
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