2: Our general approach to considering the Local Government Act 2002

Inquiry into Christchurch City Council's five property purchases.

In considering reasonable compliance with the decision-making provisions contained in Part 6 of the Act, we consider that it is important to read the Act as a whole, and to recognise that it creates a structure of representative democracy for councils and requires them to take a participatory and disciplined approach to decision-making.

In giving an elected council responsibility for particular decisions, the Act clearly expects those decisions to be informed by the political and democratic context within which elected members operate.

However, alongside that political and democratic context, the Act sets out a decision-making framework that includes a number of requirements designed to ensure a measure of rigour and transparency in local authority decision-making processes. In particular, sections 77 and 78 require local authorities to identify options for achieving an objective and to assess them against a range of specified factors. Local authorities are also required to consider the views of those likely to be affected by or interested in the matter at various points in the process.

The Act does not specify standards for how that information should be obtained, the level of depth or detail that is required, or what evidence is needed to demonstrate compliance. However, section 79 makes clear that a local authority has power to adapt the way in which it meets those standards to match the significance of the issue. It is for the local authority to make judgements “in its discretion” as to the appropriate extent, detail, and nature of what is done to meet those standards. This is a clear parliamentary direction that there should be substantial deference to appropriate judgements that a local authority makes on these matters.

The reserving of discretion to the local authority specifically covers the extent to which options are assessed and relative benefits and costs are quantified, the extent and detail of information to be considered, and the extent and nature of any written record that is kept of compliance. The Act also makes clear that the appropriate assessment of significance in a given case is a subjective judgement by the local authority.

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