I write this fresh from a meeting of the Regional Council today, where the decision was made to seek a resource consent, through a special Board of Inquiry process, for the proposed Central Hawke’s Bay water storage scheme.
Plenty has been written in this magazine about the $600 million dam project, including by its leading advocates, so I won’t re-hash the substantive issues here.
Indeed, very few substantive issues were raised in the discussion today; most that were came from Councillor Remmerswaal, who was also the only Councillor to oppose moving the project to the resource consent application stage. Other Councillors, already having concluded that the dam is the salvation of Hawke’s Bay, basically made clear that their fingers are crossed, eagerly anticipating a sign-off from the Board of Inquiry next year.
So what happens next?
To applause from the audience that filled the Council’s meeting room, Councillor Kirton noted that HBRC had not distinguished itself by its transparency and handling of the public consultation process on these issues. He saw no evidence that the recommendations or concerns made by Tukituki Choices submitters (i.e., the majority of whom opposed the Council’s preferred course of action) had been taken aboard by HBRC staff.
He commented on the need for HBRC on a project of this importance to move from a “low trust to a high trust environment”.
Amen to that.
Exactly how that will happen is still murky, however. Because responsibility for progressing the dam resource consent application has now been handed to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), which is governed equally by three Councillors and three private citizens – Andy Pearce (Chair), Jim Scotland and Sam Robinson.
What steps HBRIC will take, if any, to bring more transparency to the further process and earn greater public trust and support remains to be seen.
As HBRC staff concedes, an enormous amount of detail work must ensue, both as the resource consent application is developed and as financial aspects of the project, including key elements of the farming economics presently assumed, are more deeply probed.
These preparations must proceed in tandem, before the final consent application sees daylight and is presented to central government, and the devil is clearly in the details. However, given the record to date, ratepayers cannot be very reassured that input from informed skeptical parties will be sought or welcome.
Many in the community will be looking for signals from HBRIC’s leadership that they will run a transparent process and seek information from independent parties as they prepare their consent application and formulate financial plans.