Territorial authorities of New Zealand

Territorial authorities of New Zealand

Territorial authorities are the second tier of local government in New Zealand, below regional councils. There are 67 territorial authorities: 12 city councils, 53 district councils, Auckland Council and Chatham Islands Council. Six territorial authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, the Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough district councils and Chatham Islands Council) also perform the functions of a regional council and thus are unitary authorities. Territorial authority districts are not subdivisions of regions, and some of them fall within more than one region. Taupo District has the distinction of straddling the boundaries of four different regions (see below). Regional council areas are based on water catchment areas, whereas territorial authorities are based on community of interest and road access. Regional councils are responsible for the administration of many environmental and public transport matters, while the territorial authorities administer local roading and reserves, sewerage, building consents, the land use and subdivision aspects of resource management, and other local matters. Some activities are delegated to council-controlled organisations.

Territorial authorities

The word “Council” is omitted from the names of the territorial authorities in this section.

North Island

Name Seat Area (km2) Population Density (/km2) Region(s)
Far North District Kaikohe 7,505 61,200 8.15 Northland
Whangarei District Whangarei 3,314 85,900 25.92 Northland
Kaipara District Dargaville 3,122 21,100 6.76 Northland
Auckland Auckland 5,600 1,570,500 280.45 Auckland (Unitary authority)
Thames-Coromandel District Thames 3,193 27,800 8.71 Waikato
Hauraki District Paeroa 1,186 19,100 16.10 Waikato
Waikato District Ngaruawahia 4,506 69,500 15.42 Waikato
Matamata-Piako District Te Aroha 1,755 33,700 19.20 Waikato
Hamilton City Hamilton 94 156,800 1,668.09 Waikato
Waipa District Te Awamutu 1,473 50,400 34.22 Waikato
South Waikato District Tokoroa 1,814 23,500 12.95 Waikato
Otorohanga District Otorohanga 2,063 9,720 4.71 Waikato
Waitomo District Te Kuiti 3,551 9,530 2.68 Waikato (94.87%)
Taupo District Taupo 6,955 35,600 5.12 Waikato (73.74%)
Bay of Plenty(14.31%)
Hawke’s Bay(11.26%)
Manawatu-Wanganui (0.69%)
Western Bay of Plenty District Greerton, Tauranga City 2,120 46,800 22.08 Bay of Plenty
Tauranga City Tauranga 168 124,600 741.67 Bay of Plenty
Opotiki District Opotiki 3,098 8,800 2.84 Bay of Plenty
Whakatane District Whakatane 4,441 34,600 7.79 Bay of Plenty
Rotorua District Rotorua 2,614 69,200 26.47 Bay of Plenty (61.52%)
Waikato (38.48%)
Kawerau District Kawerau 22 6,660 302.73 Bay of Plenty
Gisborne District Gisborne 8,351 47,400 5.68 Gisborne (Unitary authority)
Wairoa District Wairoa 4,124 8,180 1.98 Hawke’s Bay
Hastings District Hastings 5,218 77,900 14.93 Hawke’s Bay
Napier City Napier 106 60,400 569.81 Hawke’s Bay
Central Hawke’s Bay District Waipawa 3,324 13,450 4.05 Hawke’s Bay
New Plymouth District New Plymouth 2,225 79,000 35.51 Taranaki
Stratford District Stratford 2,161 9,230 4.27 Taranaki (68.13%)
Manawatu-Wanganui (31.87%)
South Taranaki District Hawera 3,577 27,700 7.74 Taranaki
Ruapehu District Taumarunui 6,730 12,450 1.85 Manawatu-Wanganui
Rangitikei District Marton 4,476 14,700 3.28 Manawatu-Wanganui (86.37%)
Hawke’s Bay (13.63%)
Wanganui District Wanganui 2,372 43,600 18.38 Manawatu-Wanganui
Manawatu District Feilding 2,628 29,300 11.15 Manawatu-Wanganui
Palmerston North City Palmerston North 337 85,500 253.71 Manawatu-Wanganui
Tararua District Dannevirke 4,367 17,400 3.98 Manawatu-Wanganui (98.42%)
Wellington (1.58%)
Horowhenua District Levin 1,066 31,400 29.46 Manawatu-Wanganui
Masterton District Masterton 2,298 24,400 10.62 Wellington
Kapiti Coast District Paraparaumu 733 51,400 70.12 Wellington
Carterton District Carterton 1,181 8,800 7.45 Wellington
South Wairarapa District Martinborough 2,452 10,000 4.08 Wellington
Upper Hutt City Upper Hutt 542 42,000 77.49 Wellington
Porirua City Porirua 182 54,500 299.45 Wellington
Hutt City Lower Hutt 377 102,000 270.56 Wellington
Wellington City Wellington 289 203,800 705.19 Wellington
  • Population as of June 2015 estimate.

South Island

Name Seat Area (km2) Population Density (per km2) Region(s)
Tasman District Richmond 9,786 49,500 5.06 unitary authority
Nelson City Nelson 445 49,900 112.13 unitary authority
Marlborough District Blenheim 12,484 45,300 3.63 unitary authority
Buller District Westport 7,950 10,350 1.30 West Coast
Grey District Greymouth 3,516 13,650 3.88 West Coast
Westland District Hokitika 11,870 8,720 0.73 West Coast
Kaikoura District Kaikoura 2,050 3,650 1.78 Canterbury
Hurunui District Amberley 8,661 12,500 1.44 Canterbury
Selwyn District Rolleston 6,557 52,700 8.04 Canterbury
Waimakariri District Rangiora 2,216 56,400 25.45 Canterbury
Christchurch City Christchurch 1,610 367,800 228.45 Canterbury
Ashburton District Ashburton 6,208 33,200 5.35 Canterbury
Mackenzie District Fairlie 7,442 4,440 0.60 Canterbury
Timaru District Timaru 2,726 46,300 16.98 Canterbury
Waimate District Waimate 3,577 7,870 2.20 Canterbury
Waitaki District Oamaru 7,212 21,900 3.04 Canterbury (59.61%)
Otago (40.39%)
Queenstown-Lakes District Queenstown 9,368 32,400 3.46 Otago
Central Otago District Alexandra 9,966 19,200 1.93 Otago
Dunedin City Dunedin 3,340 125,800 37.66 Otago
Clutha District Balclutha 6,406 17,400 2.72 Otago
Southland District Invercargill 32,605[6] 30,600 0.94 Southland
Gore District Gore 1,251 12,450 9.95 Southland
Invercargill City Invercargill 491 54,200 110.39 Southland
  • Population as of June 2015 estimate.
  • Total of Christchurch City and Banks Peninsula areas.
  • Includes Stewart Island/Rakiura, also listed separately below, and Solander Islands .

Stewart Island/Rakiura

Name Seat Area (km2) Population Region
Part of Southland District Invercargill, South Island 1746 402 Southland

Chatham Islands

  • Chatham Islands Territory is a district governed by the Chatham Islands Council, a unitary authority.

Other islands

There are a number of islands where the Minister of Local Government is the territorial authority, two of which have a ‘permanent population and/or permanent buildings and structures.’ The main islands are listed below (population according to 2001 census in parenthesis):

  • Mayor Island/Tuhua (3)
  • Motiti Island (30)
  • Whakaari/White Island
  • Moutohora Island
  • Bare Island

In addition, seven of the nine groups of the New Zealand Outlying Islands are outside of any territorial authority:

  • Kermadec Islands (3)
  • Three Kings Islands
  • Bounty Islands
  • The Snares
  • Antipodes Islands
  • Auckland Islands
  • Campbell Islands


1989 local government reforms

For many decades until the local government reforms of 1989, a borough with more than 20,000 people could be proclaimed a city. The boundaries of councils tended to follow the edge of the built-up area, so little distinction was made between the urban area and the local government area.

New Zealand’s local government structural arrangements were significantly reformed by the Local Government Commission in 1989 when approximately 700 councils and special purpose bodies were amalgamated to create 87 new local authorities. Regional councils were reduced in number from 20 to 13, territorial authorities (city/district councils) from 200 to 75, and special purpose bodies from over 400 to 7. The new district and city councils were generally much larger and most covered substantial areas of both urban and rural land. Many places that once had a city council were now being administered by a district council.

As a result, the term “city” began to take on two meanings.

The word “city” came to be used in a less formal sense to describe major urban areas independent of local body boundaries. This informal usage is jealously guarded. Gisborne, for example, adamantly described itself as the first city in the world to see the new millennium. Gisborne is administered by a district council, but its status as a city is not generally disputed.

Under the current law the minimum population for a new city is 50,000.

Changes since 1989

Since the 1989 reorganisations, there have been few major reorganisations or status changes in local government. Incomplete list:

  • 1991: Invercargill re-proclaimed a city.
  • 1992: Nelson-Marlborough Regional Council abolished by a Local Government Amendment Act. Of its territorial authorities, Kaikoura District was transferred to the Canterbury Region, and Nelson City and Tasman and Marlborough districts became unitary authorities.
  • 1995: The Chatham Islands County was dissolved and reconstituted by a specific Act of Parliament as the “Chatham Islands Territory”, with powers similar to those of territorial authorities and some functions similar to those of a regional council.
  • 2004: Tauranga became a city again on 1 March.
  • 2006: Banks Peninsula District merged into Christchurch City as a result of 2005 referendum.
  • 2010: Auckland Council, a unitary authority, replaced seven local councils and the regional council.

Reports on completed reorganisation proposals since 1999 are available on the Local Government Commission’s site (link below).

2007–2009 Royal Commission on Auckland Governance

On 26 March 2009, the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance recommended the Rodney, North Shore, Waitakere, Auckland City, Manukau, Papakura and Franklin territorial councils and the Auckland Regional Council be abolished and the entire Auckland region to be amalgamated into one “supercity”. The area would consist of one city council (with statutory provision for three Maori councillors), four urban local councils, and two rural local councils:

  • Rodney local council would lose Orewa, Dairy Flat, and Whangaparaoa but retain the remainder of the current Rodney District. The split areas as well as the current North Shore City would form a Waitemata local council.
  • Waitakere local council would consist of the current Waitakere City as well as the Avondale area.
  • Tamaki Makaurau would consist of the current Auckland City and Otahuhu (excluding CBD)
  • Manukau local council would consist of the urban parts of the current Manukau City and of the Papakura District.
  • Hunua local council would consist of the entire Franklin District, much of which is currently in the Waikato Region, along with rural areas of the current Papakura District and Manukau City.
  • The entire Papakura District would be dissolved between urban and rural councils.

The National-led Government responded within about a week. Its proposal, which will go to a Select Committee, has the supercity and many community boards but no local councils and for the first election no separate seats for Maori.

Public reaction to the Royal Commission report was mixed, especially in regards to the Government’s amended proposal. Auckland Mayor John Banks supported the amended merger plans.

Criticism of the amended proposal came largely from residents in Manukau, Waitakere and North Shore Cities. In addition, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples spoke against the exclusion of the Maori seats, as recommended by the Royal Commission. Opposition Leader Phil Goff called for a referendum on the issue.

Failed proposed changes

  • 2015: Proposals to amalgamate local councils in Wellington and Northland were accepted by the Local Government Commission for consideration, although following consultation they ultimately were not formed into a final proposal. The status quo remains.
  • 2015: Amalgamation of four local councils and the regional council in Hawke’s Bay was proposed by the Local Government Commission. A district wide referendum was held in Sep-2015, and the proposal was defeated by 66% of voters.
November 11, 2015/ by / in

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