For the first time in my experience, the Regional Council’s long-term plan has a true strategic underpinning. This is the result of intensive analysis considering future scenarios, emerging issues and trends, and the most optimal way in which the Council can best benefit the Hawke’s Bay region with its considerable resources.
The Council’s Embracing Futures Thinking document reflected this analysis, with draft strategic goals and objectives under headings such as Sustainability, Water Management, Optimal Land Use, Coping with Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Future Regional Infrastructure, Economic Development, Investment Strategy and Partnerships with Maori.
The thinking in this document (available on request) has been further developed in the long-term plan into key policy change proposals and programme activities which, if adopted, will in my opinion be transformational for the Council and have a huge positive influence on the region’s economic development and environmental protection. Whilst the plan is for a ten-year period, the first three years should be a fairly accurate prediction, but further out is indicative only.
There are two key and critical strategies, affecting water management and Council’s economic investments.
Firstly, regarding water – our most precious and finite resource – under demand pressure from industry and irrigators, and likely to be under supply constraint, as with climate change Hawke’s Bay becomes an increasingly drier place.
Over and above the Council’s presently substantial investment in science, monitoring and consent compliance, the Council proposes to invest $2.6 million in scientific investigation and policy development over the next three years. The science objective is to fill knowledge gaps about the scale of the Heretaunga and Ruataniwha plains aquifers and sustainable takes. The policy objective is to better manage the resource to sustainably maximise water utilisation, while avoiding environmental degradation.
But we won’t sit on our hands in the meantime, or be paralysed by analysis. Two projects are being planned for right now. The first will provide real time data from water takes through metering and telemetry for highly responsive management of water demand, to enable better utilisation and maintenance of critical water flows in our rivers.
The second project is a pre-feasibility study into the potential for water harvesting, particularly in the Ruataniwha plains and upper Ngaruroro River catchments. Storage reservoirs can capture winter peak flows and enable irrigation and supplementation of ecological surface flows in the dry summer months. There is the potential for a further 41,000 hectares to be irrigated in these areas, with an irrigated farm earning 2.4 times the revenue of a dryland farm. As well as the obvious economic benefit, careful design and management can enhance environmental and ecological values, so we will work with Iwi and organisations like Fish and Game for the best possible outcome.
The second key strategy is review of the Council’s Investment Strategy.
We are fortunate that the Regional Council is a relatively wealthy organisation, but to date it has had a very lazy balance sheet (with $30 million sitting in bank accounts). Our intention is to have those funds working, and also to be able to leverage off the balance of the portfolio, including the Napier residential leasehold lands and ownership of the Port of Napier.
The objective is new investments in Hawke’s Bay that have a triple benefit. Firstly, economic development; secondly, environmental protection or enhancement; and last, but not least, maintaining a reasonable financial return to minimise costs to ratepayers.
Expect active investment in ventures such as water use monitoring, wastewater treatment, conservation forestry, carbon farming and, subject to feasibility, water harvesting.
The Port of Napier will continue its status as a vital strategic asset. Despite media assertions that the Council is intending to sell its shares, at the moment we are buying, not selling, with the Horizons Regional Council shares under purchase negotiation right now. However, the Investment Policy needs to ensure more flexibility in future ownership arrangements, and a future sale of a minority percentage of shares could be an option if a compelling case can earn public support through a special consultation process.
Other significant proposals in the Plan include improved public transport services, our “healthy homes” response to Government’s air quality regulations (insulation plus clean heat for the 60% of substandard housing in Napier and Hastings), a $3.7 million contestable fund to assist significant community infrastructure projects, and ongoing resourcing to assist a stronger partnership with Maori. The latter is increasingly relevant as Treaty settlements may result in new partnerships around the management of natural resources.
And whilst this is by no means a “Business as Usual” plan, there will be business as usual in the Council’s vital functions of drainage and river control, land management, biosecurity, civil defence, resource management, transport planning, and economic development through Hawke’s Bay Incorporated.