Amalgamation … the glaring omission from all the Council ten-year plans being cut and polished as we speak.
Any objective assessment of local government in Hawke’s Bay must conclude that we are horribly over-governed. And that is seriously expensive. Not just in direct costs, like five councils, five chief executives, and five lots of bureaucracy. It is just as much the five plans for everything from fresh water to coastal strategy to the size of your goldfish tank.
A “Walking and Cycling Strategy” is required by central government before they will fund cycle ways and walkways. Hastings, Napier and Central Hawke’s Bay have all done individual plans. Change ‘Tukituki’ to ‘Ngarororo’ and the plans are virtually identical. Total costs for this example of unneccessary duplication run to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But a big smile on the face of the engineering consultants.
By 1996, five councils in Central Hawke’s Bay have been successfully unified under the one administration. Since then, computers and cell phones have shrunk distance and costs further. There is no logical reason for Hawke’s Bay to remain fragmented.
It is difficult to estimate the extra costs and potential savings of having five councils instead of one. Difficult, but not impossible. The direct costs of running five competing councils runs into the millions of dollars. No one wants to do the actual numbers because it might be embarrassing.
But the real costs are inestimable. No one can quantify the missed opportunities, the things that might have been, if we were united and forward-looking, instead of fragmented, argumentative and self-destructive. Those lost opportunies, over time, run into tens of millions.
But there is no indication that any of the councils are considering any forms of closer relations. The reasons are well known and well documented and summed up by the well worn observation that Turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas. There are plenty of excuses, but very few reasons. There is a lot of talk about long term goals and strategic planning, but detail and minutiae win the day.
It would make a great deal of sense for councils to at least amalgamate services, even if they cannot bear one another’s company round the council table. But there is no cooperation to speak of in terms of building inspections, libraries, planning, land use or coastal cooperation. Each council paddles its own waka and jealously guards its right to hire more staff and more experts to duplicate the work of fellow councils and central government. And the less than friendly rivalry leads to some absurdities.
Such as Hastings District Council Building Inspectors driving through Napier to work in Tutira and Te Pohue. Or, while at Te Aute, under CHB laws, you can sub-divide your entire farm into one-acre blocks as of right, but at Ocean Beach, HDC holds a hui, a charette, and $280,000 later says “Sorry, no can do.”
So what’s the answer? One solution could be a federation of existing councils that retains communities of interest, but centralises services and administration. The Regional Council could become an environmental protection agency again, which is what it does best. The new Super Council could take over the assets of the province … corporatise the Port, Airport, Unison and Centralines (all community owned already) to provide the money for provincial projects. Crank up the press and the ratepayers associations to provide effective watchdogs, and limit the tenure of politicians to six or nine years.
Amalgamation is on the National Party’s political agenda. It makes sense to do it ourselves and get what we want rather than have the mad people in Wellington do it for us.
I don’t think it will happen. I think we are too reactionary, too comfortable, and too tied up in our day-to-day turf wars to lift up our eyes to the hills. But then I’ve been in politics for over nine years now, so what can you expect?
I rest my case.