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WHAT DOES ‘COMMUNITY’ MEAN?

Community is a term frequently used in local government that means different things to different people.

Sometimes it will mean everyone who lives, works or is involved in some sort of activity in a municipality. In other words, a homogenous entity which has single interest, need or demand. At other times, it will mean separate smaller groups which have specific interests that may compete with others in the municipality.

WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY?

The Local Government Act 1989, section 1A (4), defines ‘local community’ as those who live in the municipal district, people and bodies who are ratepayers (in the municipal district), and people and bodies who conduct activities in the municipal district. This really means that the ‘local community’ is in fact a large number of communities which includes:

  • Residents
    includes both landowners and tenants
  • Ratepayers
    includes owner-occupiers, investors and businesses – the latter two may or may not live in the municipal district
  • People and bodies who conduct activities
    includes people who come to the municipality for work, tourism, leisure or for other reasons.

All of these groups are made up of smaller groups. The business community for example includes large business owners, small business people, farmers, manufacturers, retailers and those in the services industries. Often such diverse groups do not share the same aspirations, goals or interests.

Community can also mean future generations as their interests should also be accommodated in decisions.

CHALLENGES FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

One of the challenges for all levels of government is how to ensure that different, and often competing, interests are recognised, addressed and responded to. This is particularly relevant for local government which regards itself as being closest to ‘the community’.

When a councillor says that ‘the community wants a particular outcome’, the implication is that the outcome is universally supported and therefore should be implemented. In fact, it is likely that one or more of the many sub-communities which make up a ‘local community’ support the outcome. This, of course, should be taken into account in the decision-making process.

FACT

“A community is rarely a single entity, but is made up of many different groups.”

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