Why I love being a local government law specialist – it’s about he tangata, the people.

Being locked down in level 4 (with twice as many children as the last time we were here) has allowed me to reflect on why I love being a local government law specialist. Ultimately, it’s about he tangata – the people, the relationships, and an unrivalled diversity of work. This incredible sector is all about communities and it would be difficult to imagine another one with such broad reach and influence. That’s the magic of local government.

Since 2014, when as a relatively green former Crown Prosecutor I joined Helen Rice at Rice Speir, I have had the privilege of working with some incredible council officers throughout New Zealand. From building inspectors and planners in Dunedin, Dargaville and Duntroon, to Chief Executives and Mayors in Tauranga, Taranaki, Tairua and almost everywhere in between. Being a small cog in the large local government wheel is something I’m proud of and it’s a sentiment that every Rice Speir lawyer shares.

The theme of the recent LGNZ conference in Blenheim, Reimagining Aotearoa – from community up, really resonated with me (and I should say, it was an incredible event hosted by one of the country’s most beautiful districts, and our close friends Marlborough District Council). It’s fair to say that significant change is on the horizon for all of us, including once in a generation reform of three waters, resource management and the structure of local government more generally. But these big ticket items didn’t dampen the spirit of the conference. Rather than look at the uncertainty ahead with trepidation, the resounding feeling among councils is that this is an opportunity to shape the country for the next generation.

It is with a sense of happiness therefore that I congratulate some of Rice Speir’s closest colleagues in local government for their success at the 2021 LGNZ Excellence Awards, including Hastings District Council for winning the Kāinga Ora Homes and Communities Excellence Award for Social Wellbeing (for its highly successful Place-Based Housing Plan), the Creative New Zealand Excellence Award for Cultural Well-being (for the Toitoi – Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre project) and being highly commended in the Social Wellbeing category for its Youth Programme.

Rice Speir is proud to have a physical presence in Hawke’s Bay and it never ceases to amaze me just how positive everyone we deal with at Central Hawke’s Bay District Council, Napier City Council and Hasting District Council really are. I for one look forward to continuing to grow our relationships in that special part of the world.

A little closer to our spiritual home, congratulations to Auckland Council for taking out the Te Tari Taiwhenua Internal Affairs Excellence Award for Outstanding Contribution to Local Government during the COVID-19 response. In what has been a strange and challenging year for everyone, it is great to see New Zealand’s largest metro council recognised for the way in which it dealt with the pandemic. Our bond with Auckland Council has been reaffirmed this year and we are excited about the prospect of partnering with the council to tackle some of the significant issues facing Tāmaki Makaurau, whether they be regulatory compliance and enforcement in nature or defending civil claims.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, it is the diversity of work that keeps me going in local government and there’s no better illustration of that than our recent success with Auckland Council, where we wrestled with a fluffle of 400 pet rabbits in one of Auckland’s priciest inner city suburbs. The case made it all the way to the Guardian (it must have been a slow news day…) and you can read all about it here.

Besides the pandemic, many councils have recently been through their LTP process and we recognise Tauranga City Council’s July adoption of the most important Long-Term Plan in Tauranga’s history. With a longstanding relationship supporting Tauranga City Council and a new physical presence in Devonport Road, Rice Speir is delighted at TCC’s bold work programme, which will give a city that is growing at a rapid pace the building blocks to become great.

Lastly, I was extremely happy for Christchurch City Council this month, who voted to greenlight the Canterbury Multi-Use Arena and restore the seating capacity to 30,000 (being able to seat up to 41,000 people for concerts). The arena will be a powerful regional asset and I have no doubt it will attract people from all over New Zealand, including the best entertainers and biggest sports teams.

There is so much to celebrate in local government right now and there’s plenty of electrifying things on the horizon for Rice Speir too, including a new Partner, two additional lawyers, a refreshed brand and website, not to mention the Summer break! To keep abreast of what’s coming up in our world you can subscribe to our podcast Rice Speir Radio for insightful interviews with LG thought leaders, follow the firm on LinkedIn and look out for the Spring edition of the newsletter.

Until then, stay safe and keep it local.

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