I have huge problems with amalgamation. My long standing feeling has always been that this region, with its well-defined ring of mountains, three rivers and resulting plains needs an over-arching plan.
It cannot be separated into someone doing the mountains, someone having part of a river, someone planning something for the plains and aquifer without regard to the effect on the rest of the region.
Our mountains are the backbone of our region. They are very unstable land, much affected by earthquakes. The local greywacke rock is a rotten rock. Frost and snow degrade it easily into sharp stones and sand. Torrential rainfall and snowmelt carry this debris down the rivers and that is how the plains were formed. Earthquakes also uplift the plains, reshaping them. These processes are continuous.
The rivers tie the mountains to the foothills, down through the Heretaunga Plains and to the sea. Currents carry all kinds of deposits up the coast forming shingle beaches, and taking sewerage and waste up to Nuhaka. The aquifer comes out as artesian springs well out at sea.
Nothing happens that does not have some repercussion over the region. Separate councils have so far not taken these far-reaching results into account. The pollution of the rivers being an example. When each problem is taken individually, nobody takes responsibility for what is happening.
However, I don’t know that I could trust a regional governing body. The one we have has proved fairly ineffectual at putting a regional plan in place.
I find it hard to justify Wairoa and its districts in our region. However, it has nowhere else to go and it would be unfair to leave the area to fend for itself if amalgamation occurs.
I don’t trust big business – so often it has only a short term interest, uses up or degrades the resources and moves on to suck dry some other area.
I don’t like five-year plans – what about 30 years down the track.
I don’t like forced amalgamation.
I don’t like National’s agenda.
I believe small is beautiful. But five separate councils for 160,000 people seems like over-kill.
How do you decide what to do?
With all its faults, the Local Government Act 2002 had those magic words in it: “to promote social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being”. These have been removed since 2012 by the National Government.
The ‘Better Local Government’ package takes the ‘local’ out of local government. It aims to make local government more efficient, keep rates down and to reduce council debt. Sounds good enough but National’s real agenda reduces local democracy by encouraging amalgamation of councils, narrows the scope of local government and is a step towards privatisation of community assets, with many council functions such as water, sewerage and transport being transferred to corporate boards. Local government will be under the thumb of central government. Who then will run libraries, art galleries, install local sculptures, parks and gardens, plant trees? These are not core local government activities but define a town’s and region’s individuality. Your region, where you belong.
At a recent meeting we were shown some interesting local statistics. Most people are very happy to live here, yet our crime, health, level of poverty and employment figures are terrible. So what makes this place tick? It’s got an excellent climate, easy going pace of life, places to go, things to do, friendly people and wonderful back country. Of course we used to have rivers we could swim in for free too.
In our haste to push for economic growth we ought not to lose sight of the very things that bring people in to the district. We have a high level of ‘returned’ locals who have been away 10-30 years and come back. Most for the lifestyle, many to retire as well. We need clear rivers for water, fish, recreation and beauty. We need land that isn’t poisoned with chemicals. We need clean air over the whole region, not just over the houses of Hastings.
We need an earthquake plan, a flood plan, a climate plan, a transport plan, a town development plan, a sewerage plan and a health plan. We need a plan to accommodate the growing population over 65 and in particular over 95. They are here and we are already well behind with a plan that keeps this group healthy, mobile and in the community.
We need some way to attract young people to either stay here or come to this region. Lack of employment is a major hurdle. While young people have always left the district, the jobs that brought them back have gone. Country service for teachers, bank managers of small branch banks on their way to learning their job and positions in bigger offices – even Head Office – door to door salesmen for housebound families, small family businesses passed on from generation to generation and all the agricultural work that used to keep young people here are gone.
Banks are run from ‘holes in the wall’, buying is done over the internet, the postal services are much reduced as email takes over, shops close, dental clinics close, nursing is centralised, schools are amalgamated (that word again). The life blood of a community is squeezed dry. A growing pool of dependent, unemployed people has appeared, who cannot afford to buy houses, pay doctors and participate in their community. Of course there are exceptions; there are always exceptions. Look at what volunteers do in a community.
What we don’t need is inward-looking small town politics, petty arguments, local empire building, rules and regulations which change from each council area and are not in tune with our existing regional council.
So what am I going to do?
I don’t really want to amalgamate – big is rarely beautiful. But neither is small-mindedness.
I am going to vote to amalgamate, with huge reservations, but it seems the only logical, sane, holistic and purposeful way to go.
The input of the people must be maintained. We don’t want a great clobbering machine. Governing bodies must be accessible to the public (though the public can be very narrow-minded and introverted.)
I wonder if we have anybody locally who has enough vision and courage to be running an inclusive regional council. Our history of inter-council bickering does not bode well for the future of any system of local government.
Help! Perhaps I am so muddled I shouldn’t vote at all. But not voting is a quick way to opt out of democracy. The powers that be rapidly step in to decide for you.
I have one other issue: I find I usually agree more with those who favour amalgamation and less with those who stand against it.
If we all took a step back and thought what we would like for the region instead of our own little patch, or if we all got off our own pet hobby horses and if we all voted: then we might get a united regional council that does the best for us and our region. Amalgamation has to be the only way we can achieve this.