On Wednesday the Napier Council was dragged kicking and screaming into a project that will benefit all of Hawke’s Bay.

They voted unanimously to support the inquiry, already endorsed by the region’s other four councils, into Hawke’s Bay’s sorry economic and social performance.

You might ask: How do “dragged kicking and screaming” and “voted unanimously to support the inquiry” fit together?

When the Council’s discussion occurred, virtually every Napier Councillor stood up to denounce the review. Each one made it clear they really wanted to have nothing to do with it — a waste of time, already done, a plot of Yule, a dastardly stalking horse for — sensitive ears be warned — amalgamation! Even the Chamber of Commerce said another study wasn’t needed, they claimed.

[Actually, the Chamber’s CEO Murray Douglas in a recent presentation to the Napier Council averred that we had plenty of studies … we needed action. He’s to be forgiven for his diplomacy, because he was courting support from the Council for Business Hawke’s Bay that day and knew full well what NCC wanted to hear. The Chamber’s official position — in support of a reorganization — is on their website here.]

So, with all these deeply felt reasons to oppose the study, why did the Napier Councillors cave in and unanimously support it?

Because they knew they’d look like clowns if they opposed it. As several of the speakers candidly admitted.

To insist that a region that ranks permanently in the bottom tier of New Zealand, yet has such promise, should not re-examine its situation — including how it governs itself — is patently ridiculous. And each of those Councillors — and their Mayor — know it. A high school debater would make mincemeat of these jokers.

Sure there have been other studies of how Hawke’s Bay might better progress. But two points need to be understood.

First, none of those studies have dared look at the extent to which fragmented, duplicative local government might actually impede progress in the Bay.

Second, the recommendations of these studies have sat quietly on the shelf, because — as several Napier Councillors noted — our local councils have ignored them. As one Councillor boomed: “We need to get off our bums and do something!”

Precisely Councillor. But you never will.

The present arrangements give no incentives to act for the good of the region … only incentives to act to protect local patches.

When it comes to self-preservation, our councils make the notorious gangs look like a bunch of girl guides.

So, despite all their grand convictions, the Napier Councillors responded to blunt force on Wednesday. Not a single Napier Councillor voted his or her stated conviction on Wednesday. They voted for the study — either because they directly felt the political danger, or because their Mayor explained it to them.

But despite this new ‘commitment’ to a serious, independent examination of Hawke’s Bay’s challenges, have no doubt that we’re in for continued, entrenched resistance … trench warfare. The Napier Council will fight the choice of study leader. They won’t like the timeframe. They’ll resist public participation in the process. They won’t like the typeface on the report. Ultimately, they won’t like the recommendations.

So while they couldn’t muster the courage to secede from Hawke’s Bay on this day, what the Napier Council did on Wednesday was nothing more than choose to fight another day.

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. To be brutally frank the study will be perhaps interesting at best. By the time its recommendations are out it will be patently obvious that regional councils have a limited life with signficant aspects of policy being transferred to the EPA and what is left will be wrapped up into sensible unitary structures that mean we have less councils into the future. NZ is over-administered and under-directed at present.

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