Unitary authority

Nelson City Council is one of only six Unitary Authorities in the country.

What's different about a unitary authority

There are two kinds of local government councils in New Zealand - the territorial authority and the regional authority. By the way, 'council' and 'authority' are both correct terms - their meaning is essentially the same.

Each of these two has different responsibilities. Most local governments in New Zealand are made up of a separate regional council with several territorial authorities (city or district councils) within its borders.

The territorial authority provides services such as

  • fresh water
  • rubbish collection and disposal, litter control
  • sewage treatment, parks and reserves and leisure facilities
  • roads and streetlighting,  control of land subdivision
  • building and resource consents processing, animal control
  • libraries and museums
  • food premises and liquor licensing

The regional authority provides services such as

  • bio-security/pest control
  • civil defence/emergency management
  • river and flood control
  • environmental protection
  • regional land transport
  • water quantity and quality regulation
  • maritime navigation and safety
  • some building control and consents processing (for example, dams)

Some services and functions are carried out by both types of authority:

  • elections and public meetings
  • local bylaw administration

Responsibility of a regional authority

A unitary authority is a territorial authority that also has all the responsibility of a regional authority - unifying both roles in one local government body which covers one geographical area.

One rate, two roles

Most New Zealand property owners pay two rates - the territorial and the regional. We pay just one, a combined rate. Here's a comparison of average residential rates with regions similar to Nelson (Tasman and Marlborough are included for comparison, though their makeup is much more rural):

Average residential rates
Council Population 1 Average combined territorial and regional rate 2
Wanganui 43,269 $1,727
Tasman 41,352 $1,700
Marlborough 39,552 $1,481
Nelson 41,565 $1,387
Timaru 41,967 $1,221

1. Source: 2001 Census final count, Statistics NZ 2. Source: Consumer Magazine 2004 survey of local governments; includes water rates and GST

How Nelson became a unitary authority

After the first Unitary Authority was established in Gisborne, in 1989, the central government of the time decided to abolish the Nelson-Marborough Regional Council, which had Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and Kaikoura as territorial authorities. Following an election in 1992 in which residents voted for unitary authority, Kaikoura moved under the umbrella of the Canterbury Regional Council (ECAN), while the others became unitary authorities.  

Who's Unitary?
Council Population *1
Chatham Islands 717
Gisborne District Council 43,971
Marlborough District Council 39,552
Tasman District Council 41,352
Nelson City Council 41,565

New Zealand has twelve regional councils, and 74 territorial authorities including 16 city and 58 district councils.

*1. Source: 2001 Census final count, Statistics NZ