So the HB Regional Council has a new Chairman, Alan Dick. Is this significant?

Absolutely.

The local paper has run a number of letters bemoaning the change in leadership, citing this as evidence of a council in disarray, driven by personal ambitions.

Rubbish!

As someone who follows the HBRC rather carefully and continuously, I applaud the change. It reflects a prudent collective judgment, shared by all but (apparently) one Councillor, that positive political leadership and oversight, better communications (within the Council, and between Council and its constituency), and bolder thinking are required for the Council to do its job in especially challenging times. And in each of these areas, the Chairman sets the tone.

As Alan Dick sized up the situation in his first remarks as Chairman:

“… we must aim for continuous improvement in the effectiveness and relevance of our decision-making, advocacy for and service to the ratepayers and citizens of Hawke’s Bay. More particularly so in an environment at least as challenging as the environment of the mid-1980s with the works closures and the resultant recession, high unemployment and sometimes permanent disruption to people’s lives. On top of that, a drought, and the probability that the international crisis will bite us pretty hard within the next few months.”

He continued:

” … it will be appropriate for the Council to review its internal responsibilities and appointments. One thing we need to recognise is that the Council has far wider scope and responsibilities than it did even twelve months ago. It is a different beast. I refer to the air quality responsibilities, the new focus on water strategy, the vastly increased scope and importance of the Regional Transport Committee, the new thrust on public transport and Roadsafe and Hawke’s Bay Inc … now business units of the Council requiring appropriate governance oversight.”

In other words, folks, the Regional Council is no longer your grandfather’s Catchment Board!

Arguably, the biggest challenges shaping the future advancement and very identity of Hawke’s Bay — issues like fostering economic development within a framework that protects our environment and natural assets, intelligent urban growth, and infrastructure investment — are indeed region-wide, and must be addressed in a regional context, not city by city. A politically astute, sophisticated, fresh thinking Regional Council must be at the heart of the process.

I interviewed Chairman Dick last week, and asked what differences in style and substance we might expect to see during his term.

Regarding style, he mentioned coherence in purpose, better functioning governance/management relations, and “more assertive” committee chairs. Clearly Chairman Dick would like to see relevant Councillors more engaged with senior staff in maintaining oversight of their respective portfolios. He noted his high regard for staff, but indicated his belief that a degree of “creative tension” is also called for.

Regarding substance, the Chairman noted four areas where we should expect to see significant moves:

  1. Progressing two “environmental enhancement initiatives” to be “assisted by the HBRC’s investment funds base” (I’m hoping one of these will be HBRC support for upgrading water treatment plants in CHB);
  2. Using the HBRC’s investment funds more productively to support positive economic development within the region (as opposed to maintaining what Dick calls “lazy” bank deposits);
  3. Championing the urban bus service, which, he acknowledges, will involve substantial public education and steadfast political leadership; and,
  4. Vigorously pursuing water policy development (an area where Dick commits he will quickly rise up the learning curve).

It all sounds promising.

But I reminded Chairman Dick of Chairman McIntyre’s response at the infamous public meeting on the Tukituki a year ago, where nearly 200 alarmed citizens showed up. Asked how long it would take to begin actually cleaning-up the river, McIntyre responded “ten years” — throwing fuel on the fire.

Talking to Alan Dick, I have the distinct impression that he realises “ten years” just won’t cut it … on any of the big issues. Expectations are higher; patience and time frames shorter. Whether he can mobilise the Regional Council — Councillors and staff alike — around a more urgent sense of mission remains to be seen. I, for one, am hopeful.

Tom Belford

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