Bruce Bisset’s HB Today column of 13 September offered his view of the candidates and the stakes. I don’t always…
Two years ago, on October 26th, a newly elected Regional Council was sworn in, and proceeded as its first item of business to elect Rex Graham as chairman. Councillors Graham, Belford, Beaven and Barker were no longer mushrooms to be kept in the dark.
This was the first step in a transformation of culture and priorities at HBRC. Here is what has been accomplished over the past two years by a group of councillors united in purpose and determined to make fundamental changes that reflect the mandate we were given by voters.
- We ended any further council financial support for the Ruataniwha dam, effectively taking it off the table and saving ratepayers from wasting a further $60 million on a project championed by the previous regime … without access to the land required.
- We stripped down to the barest essentials our investment company (HBRIC), which had driven the dam, and changed its leadership, ensuring alignment with Council’s new priorities.
- We installed a new CEO at HBRC, James Palmer, a change hugely important to ensuring the positive culture shift and environmental re-prioritisation of the Council.
- Having stood before ratepayers and convincing you of the magnitude of need, we committed HBRC to a long overdue step-up in environmental spending, with critical projects now underway at Lake Tutira, the Ahuriri Estuary, along the Karamu stream, and Whakaki Lake, alongside a transformation of our on-the-ground approach to rural land management.
- We’ve secured Farm Environmental Management Plans from over 1000 property owners in the Tukituki catchment, setting in motion an approach to improving on-farm environmental mitigation that will be rolled out across the region.
- We’ve committed $30m over ten years to riparian planting and have begun design of a major afforestation programme for HB — which will bring immense erosion control, biodiversity AND financial benefits to the region if full rollout (up to $100m) is endorsed in the public consultation process soon to launch. This initiative includes partnering with Ngati Kahungunu, who have pledged $100m on their own to the project.
- Taking a tougher regulatory stance, we have effectively prodded the territorial authorities to get serious — for the first time ever — about their infrastructure spending for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater. This will take time to play out fully, but the physical improvements needed are vital … as is the political will to see them through.
- By year’s end, our TANK process will come to fruition, setting the course for managing all surface and aquifer waters in the Heretaunga Plains for optimum quality and security of supply. Already we’ve stopped any further water takes from the Heretaunga aquifer.
- We declared – before the new coalition Govt arrived – that Hawke’s Bay was off limits to oil & gas development that would endanger our water supplies.
- We’ve launched a farmer/grower-led Future Farming Initiative that will confirm how smart, profitable farming and green farming are one and the same in HB.
- We upgraded Regional Council reserves at Waitangi Estuary and Pakowhai Park.
- We’ve maintained substantial funding for HB Tourism, while committing to a more diversified, visitor and industry-supported funding model in the near future.
- We created a Sustainable Homes programme – leveraging the HBRC balance sheet, at no cost to ratepayers – that will encourage homeowner investment in solar systems, residential water storage, and modern septic systems.
- We will adopt next month a new 20-year biosecurity plan that extends our commitment to protecting farming productivity – and our biodiversity – from plant and animal pests, including for the first time feral cats and goats. We’ve seed-funded our Biodiversity Trust and initiated a $4.86m plan (including Predator Free NZ) to make Mahia predator free.
- We’re pursuing carbon neutral status for HB by 2040. And we’ve led the development of a 100-year protection plan for the Napier and Hastings District coastal areas to address the reality of climate change-induced sea rise and storm damage.
- And just weeks ago, after two years of intense homework, we launched public consultation on a plan that will – if embraced by the public – future-proof the Port’s competitive capacity while ensuring further revenue support to the Council for its environmental priorities, at no ratepayer cost and while retaining public control of the Port.
And we are deeply-engaged with Government around our aligned goals, so far pulling nearly $5m into the region for environmental improvements.
This is a set of accomplishments that I and my colleagues are proud to have initiated with terrific support from the Hawke’s Bay community and our talented Council staff.
Many of these projects will require time to gain traction, but we’ve made a strong start and we are now focused on effective implementation.
And there’s more to come!