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Regional Rivals Slug it Out

For a while, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council appeared to only have one race guaranteeing change in this year’s election – the Napier constituency, where both David Pipe and Christine Scott signalled the end of their political service.

Sophie Price04 October 2016

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That left Alan Dick as the lone flag bearer of Napier councillors past, joined by four new candidates vying for the three available seats – Paul Bailey, Moira Irving, Neil Kirton and Martin Williams.

The three Hastings seats for HBRC seemed left to incumbents Tom Belford, Rex Graham and Rick Barker, until two “newcomers” signalled their intention to run for that constituency. HDC’s seven-term Cynthia Bowers and former CHB mayor and regional councillor Tim Gilbertson both decided to step in.

In Wairoa and CHB, challengers Dean Whaanga and environmentalist Dan Elderkamp o er fresh faces and will give spirited fights to incumbents Fenton Wilson and Debbie Hewitt respectively, but their battles are uphill. Peter Beaven should hold his Ngaruroro seat against challenger Dan Ross.

Three main areas of discussion emerged in interviews with the candidates – the dam, their expected contribution to HBRC, and specific future issues of priority to the various individuals.

The dam
Barker’s view of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme is that it is the wrong water storage model for the CHB. “I voted against putting money into the dam when it came up. I just thought at the time it did not work. That is basically my position.”

However, he has voted to accept some findings, such as Deloitte reporting that current water sales of 42.8 million m3 meant the project would break even. “On things that are matters of fact, well I will accept them as matters of fact. It doesn’t mean to say that I necessarily changed my view about the dam.”

Belford opposes the dam. “No councillor has dug more deeply into this project, and I come away convinced the environmental damage intensified farming will inflict on the Tukituki is unacceptable, and the financial risks too high, given the highly speculative economic benefits. There are better ways to provide on-farm water security.” 

Bowers openly supports the irrigation scheme, but not “at any financial cost”, indicating that if the Napier Port were put at risk then she would withdraw her backing. “Now my understanding is that is not the case, we have been told that quite clearly by [HBRIC Chairman] Andy Pearce.”

Tim Gilbertson loudly supports the RWSS. An irrigator himself, he says he has been presented with no evidence as to why it shouldn’t go ahead. “The people against the dam have not put up anything like the convincing factual scientific case to say that the dam is not an economic goer and it is not going to improve the environment,” adding if they could do this he would withdraw his support.

A staunch supporter of water storage, but not the way the RWSS is proposing to achieve it, Graham questions whether the water sales condition has been met. “I don’t agree that they got across the condition precedent. There is no way that 42.8 million m3 gets a break even and I don’t know anybody in their right mind could think that we did. At that sales level, the project does not break even.”

Graham also wants to know where the institutional investor is. “We have had a long time waiting for this investor and they are not there. So where are they? Why hasn’t the investor appeared with his chequebook?”

As for Napier candidates …

Dick wants finality on this investment to see it go ahead for the betterment of the region, especially so the Tukituki- specific management plan – Plan Change 6 – can work. “The Ruataniwha Scheme and Plan Change 6 … are totally integrated and interdependent. Plan Change 6 won’t work without the extra water in the river that the water storage scheme can guarantee.”

Bailey disagrees – with his resounding “can the dam” catch phrase – he says not one aspect of the RWSS works.

He says Plan Change 6 won’t work with the dam. With the catchment already exceeding the plan’s dissolved inorganic nitrogen limit, more intensive farming through irrigation will only make meeting this limit harder. “But it will be interesting to see how strictly enforced Plan Change 6 is … that is the one that really worries me.”

As for ‘environmental flows’, “Dilution is not the solution to pollution. All you are doing is diluting it, sending it out to sea.”

Williams says he cannot envisage a realistic scenario where the investment company would be forced to borrow so much that it would put the Port at jeopardy, as assets such as this are isolated from the scheme.

If users were to default on water payments to the scheme, the scheme’s direct owner, the Ruataniwha Water Limited Partnership, would be at risk, not HBRIC or its other assets.

Kirton is very much in support of water storage. “To me it is a no brainer, we need it. We have got a deficit of water at the moment. We have got to do something about that; it will get worse before it gets better.” 

However, he wants to weigh up all the facts on the RWSS, so he is keeping an open mind about the scheme. “I am very much needing to see all the evidence, particularly the capital raising and very interested to see the protection for the port.”

Irving supports anything that would contribute to the economic development of Hawke’s Bay. “From what I have seen of it, it is growing potential for jobs, increasing exports, so it keeps our port busy and that has got to be positive for Napier.”

She says as the RWSS is “effectively a done deal”, the important thing now is consents are issued correctly and monitored stringently, that water use is compatible and the scheme does deliver on its promised environmental improvements.

Why me?

Environmentalist Paul Bailey says Napier ratepayers deserve better representation than what they have been dealt, that the current councillors have acted like “rubber stamps” for the HB Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) for “too long”. “I think Napier rate payers deserve something better than that.”

He touches on the point that it should be the elected councillors who set policy, not council staff. “I think that is quite important,” he says, using the recent $36 million proposed purchase of environmental flows as an example. “It is just bizarre and the sta recommended it.” 

With 12 year’s local government experience sitting on the Taranaki Regional Council, Irving has now made Napier her home and wants to contribute her experience. “I don’t come with particular views or biases as to what has happened here in the past. So positive fresh enthusiasm alongside experience.”

Irving says from an outsider’s observations the publicised spats between councillors have been inappropriate. “A good organisation should be able to have heavy debate and discussion and get to a point where there is some consensus about how the message is going to be translated out to the public.”

Dick conceded that this last term had been a difficult one, noting that with six new people coming on board, it has taken quite a while to get to know one another. “That appears to have started to happen over the past three to four months, but that’s far too late.”

Kirton believes that an unhealthy standoff culture has emerged at a governance level. “To me, it’s to the point of being almost broken. It’s dysfunctional and both sides of the equation have now got to get o their horses and work together.”

Still, he says when he was first elected at a regional level he was accused of not being loyal to the authority. “And I said I am not ‘the council’. I represent the public on council and I will dig into any old cupboard I like to get the best deal for the ratepayer.”

With his legal background, Williams feels he can work with people of differing viewpoints. “I think the ratepayers are really frustrated with all this negative rhetoric going on and councillors writing letters to the editor and Talking Points against each other slagging each other off, it is just not a good look.” 

Bringing resource management and local government law to the race, Williams want to use these abilities for a “more productive social purpose … How could I apply those skills that I have learned through practice to the benefit of the region?”

As for the Hastings candidates …

Barker speaks of moving on to unfinished business, “I think the last three years were some lost opportunities. He says, “The problem we have had is a difference of opinion at the leadership level on two issues – amalgamation and the dam and it has muddied the water quite a bit” … water that would clear once both those issues became a thing of the past.

Belford sees his role as “pushing the council toward a common sense ‘let’s get it done attitude’, especially when it comes to joining together interdependent environmental and economic goals.” 

He says, “Councillors need to set fresh direction, as sta becomes too caught up in its own baggage and established ways. They begin to ignore both local expertise and fresh outside ideas. Councillors can’t let that happen.”

Bowers says she would work at improving the culture. “I think the regional council are doing good things, but they are doing it in such a way that they are making life more di cult for themselves.”

Gilbertson is standing because he regards the regional authority as “virtually dysfunctional” for the last three years. “I think that is really bad for Hawke’s Bay and I can’t see that if the current councillors are re-elected there will be much change.” 

But Graham does not believe that there is a squabbling culture in the council chamber. “There are different points of view on this particular venture [the RWSS]. But on most issues we get through. Some people think [the dam] is a wonderful idea, I think water storage is a wonderful idea; but I don’t think this particular dam is. Some people think it is, so we disagree.”

Future priorities

Bailey says the council should be outcome focused, not process focused. He says once the culture change comes about then the councillors can start coming up with real solutions.

“It’s getting back to basics really; its turning around and saying our task is to maintain and enhance the environment.”

If elected he will address the issue of assigned authority to staff. “We need to be very careful what we are delegating to staff to do, without some sort of political input,” Bailey says, using the issuing of water bottling consents as an example. “The water bottling consents should never have been granted the way they were. They should have come back into the political scene for final approval.”

Alan Dick is standing again to achieve positive conclusions on transportation projects he has championed. “We have been working for five years now on two transport plans and a rail issue and the transport planning is about to come to fruition,” he said, noting the $40 million worth of capital works on the Whakatu arterial, the Pakowhai intersection and addressing the safety issue near Hawke’s Bay Airport.

He advocates the Napier-Wairoa rail line, given the staggering increase in log harvest volume out of the northern district about to come. “State Highway 2 just can’t handle that with trucks alone and people will lose their lives.” 

Kirton eyes the environmental damage being done to the Ahuriri Estuary. “Napier [City’s] storm water discharges are just appalling.” Where there was 30-40 hectares of bare pasture, “suddenly within three years you have got hard surface everywhere, you have got all those heavy metals coming o into the storm water, you have got people washing their cars with detergents discharging straight into the storm water.” 

This is the glaring Napier issue for him, one which is contributing to less fish in the Hawke Bay. The council has some good science capabilities, Kirton says, capabilities the council could leverage into a national marine institute.

Williams sees coastal management as an issue, and “managed retreat” is how he would address this situation. With hundreds of homes dotting the edge of the Bay, he thinks alternative zoning needs to be applied to land and a pooled risk insurance scheme offered to affected residents to aid their move when the time comes.

And from the Hastings candidates … Barker believes the council needs to have some careful thought about the coastline. He says with global warming leading to sea level rises and more extreme weather events the authority is going to have to be careful how it manages coastal erosion. “I think it is inevitable that some areas are going to have to retreat and other areas we might wish to try and defend, but it will be at signifi cant cost and very challenging engineering wise.”

Belford sees water management as the key issue, “whether that be safe drinking water, water storage and allocation, water bottling, protecting our aquifers from fracking, swimmable rivers or sustainable fisheries.”He adds, “Our land and soil is the other side of the coin. We must curb enormous hill country erosion, and we need to be more proactive in helping our farmers and growers adopt the best practices they need to be both sustainable and competitive in overseas markets.”

Water is a key issue on Bowers’ agenda. “TANK is really, really important because that’s what is going have the most influence on water issues for the Heretaunga Plains and there are huge expectations riding on it. Yet as a community we don’t know much about it yet and it is meant to be in place by December 2017.” 

Global warming, renewable energy and shared services are all areas that Gilbertson wants addressed. He said as a result of the failed amalgamation vote, all councillors said they were going to save money by sharing services. “They haven’t done that, so that is the other issue I would really stand on.”

Looking forward, Graham wants to start the process on addressing hill country erosion. “That is probably the most serious issue facing Hawke’s Bay.” And he wants council agreement to protect the region’s aquifers. “We are sitting on this wonderful resource; we have got to bloody protect it and look after it.”

Sophie Price04 October 2016

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