Keith Newman asks how many big ticket items we can afford as Hawke’s Bay councils budget for the next decade without a master plan.
Inter-city rivalry hangs in the air, like the smell from the Clive sewage plant before it was capped, as the big three councils gear up to spend more than $2.5 billion over the next decade without a big picture vision for Hawke’s Bay.
Duplication of resources, patch protection and recessionary times make future planning a tense business as Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC), Hastings District (HDC) and Napier city councils disclose their long term spending plans (LTPs) ahead of ratepayer submissions.
Both cities plan to improve road access to Napier Port and the airport, sharpen up their central business districts and complete iconic developments across arts and culture, sport and recreation.
The focus across all authorities is on addressing our appalling economic performance through preparing for, attracting and sustaining economic development.
In the mix, however, dozens of projects will be artfully buried in bureaucracy despite passionate advocacy, while others, including pet projects, will get the big tick because of it.
Overall spending across councils in 2012-2013 is likely to parallel last year’s estimated $285 million while the 10-year budget is shaping up to overtop the $2.5 billion dollar mark.
While tough times make rate rises above 3% contentious, any sense of a spending spree can be deflected by spreading the cost over multiple years.
Big dam plan
Water and how to conserve and manage it, particularly through summer droughts, is a major regional concern, particularly for wineries, orchards, croppers and farmers.
The proposed 90 million cubic metre Ruataniwha high country dam, while delivering both environmental and economic outcomes, is a budget killer for HBRC.
The dam will allegedly ensure river flows are optimal, improve water quality and potentially irrigate another 20,000 or more hectares of the Ruataniwha Plains, but it’ll also place major demand on HBRC cashflow and inevitably mean a rate increase.
Although the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has put $1.67 million toward the $5 million investigation phase, HBRC is going to have to stump up with the bulk of the $150-$200 million cost.
To soften that blow it plans to sell down its 100% shareholding in the Port of Napier and possibly signal further investment in water storage assets.
Councillor Neil Kirton says there are compelling long-term management arguments for selling off the Port shares, which he says is too exposed.
“Sea freight is vulnerable to international shipping lines making unilateral decisions where Napier or Wellington ports become irrelevant, regardless of how efficient or strategic shareholders think they are.”
All it would take, he says, is for someone in Amsterdam to decide at the stroke of a pen that Tauranga will be only exit point out of New Zealand.
Meanwhile, to remain competitive with Auckland and Tauranga, there’s the need to dredge out a greater area at the Port to cope with the growing number of larger container ships and cruise liners.
Economic development push
One thing all councils agree on is the urgent need to attract and retain new businesses to lift Hawke’s Bay from the economic doldrums.
A five council sponsored report on how to improve Hawke’s Bay’s social and economic performance, as well as the merits of governance reform, is expected to uncomfortably detail the specific challenges ahead.
To date, says Hastings councillor Wayne Bradshaw, too many people have been appointed to Hawke’s Bay economic development agencies because they happen to be councillors rather than business people.
However, it seems the newly formed Business Hawke’s Bay may have come up with a workable formula. Managing to avoid the parochialism, it has already ensconced itself as a facilitator, visionary and de facto regional business development agency and secured commitments from each council.
BusinessHB’s alter ego, the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce, wrote to councils in October urging them to make economic development a high priority in their LTPs and to take leadership in getting the infrastructure right to encourage economic growth and new jobs.
It’s currently seeking a plan change in the joint council’s Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Strategy (HPUDS) so each zone becomes more flexible in respect to the business-related activities.
Chamber and BusinessHB chief executive Murray Douglas says the water storage project, for example, could create huge demand for industrial land for processing facilities.
And he’s advocating the region amend the rules and prepare for campus-style training and research centres. “We need to be thinking 40-years ahead about sites that can be easily manageable if the opportunity arises.”
BusinessHB is also zealously pursuing new infrastructure-ready business parks. “It’s no good telling businesses there’s land available unless they can move in straight away. They don’t want to wait two years for council processes.”
Napier is now at consent stage for infrastructure at its Prebensen Drive business park. While deputy mayor Kathie Furlong isn’t clear on the costs, she’s confident council will get its money back through a development contribution levy.
Diverting big rigs
Meanwhile a major effort is now underway to tidy up Whakatu as an industrial and manufacturing hub with landowners and Hastings District Council working with BusinessHB to promote it to Auckland companies.
“We are competing with Tauranga, Palmerston North and Auckland which have brilliant parks that look really good — if you go to Whakatu, it still looks like a farm — it’s a mess,” says Murray Douglas.
And the Irongate business park south of Hastings is seen as an ideal dry goods area. “We’re hoping an announcement is imminent — getting the facilities in place will be part of the long term plan. You can’t sell the site unless you’ve got the facilities in.”
A key reason businesses choose these locations will be access to essential resources such as water, infrastructure like high speed broadband and easy access to the airport and the Port of Napier.
To that end there’s a $24 million plan to upgrade the roading network for more direct east-west access from Karamu Rd to Pakowhai through to the expressway and Napier Port. There will also be an extension to Ford Rd and Prebensen Drive will become a four lane state highway.
These proposals were given a high priority in the Regional Transportation Study although everyone’s impatiently waiting on New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) endorsement and the release of regional funding. Local councils will also be expected to cough up.
Knit one, pearl one
And while accommodation and hospitality providers will breathe a sigh of relief that the rumbling of heavy rigs will eventually be diverted from Marine Parade, unresolved issues still plague the iconic waterfront.
Hawke’s Bay Tourism wants to see tourism numbers doubled by 2030 with Marine Parade a draw card for events and family focused recreation.
A waterfront vision is part of the Napier 10-year plan with new seating, planting and entertainment areas and unspecified developments.
The new plan leverages the decade old “string of pearls” plan with a pathway linking various attractions, but will remain unclear until ongoing court action by the Friends of Marineland is resolved.
Furlong says Friends of Marineland want to go back to the days of the dolphins. “While that may have served us well in the past, marine zoos are not acceptable to DOC and a lot of others.”
Meanwhile work is continuing on the penguin enclosure at the Hawke’s Bay Aquarium to boost what’s on offer there, and efforts are moving apace to open up the CBD to the waterfront recreation area.
Napier council has partnered with private enterprise to create a new mall linking Hastings Street and Dixon St to Marine Parade and its likely Farmers new extension will also provide a link to draw people onto the parade.
After a year’s delay waiting for a marine life impact survey, Napier’s $30 million sewage treatment plant is proceeding through the resource consent stage and could be operational by late 2013.
Napier sewage is currently milliscreened but the new plant at Awatoto will use the same biological trickling filter (BTF) technology employed by Hastings before piping the results 1.5 km out to sea.
The other major priority for Napier is to complete $18 million redevelopment of the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery which is on track for 2013.
Hastings councillors will be asked to consider a range of projects including new developments in civic square and the CBD, a major investment in aquatic facilities, and whether there’s a viable solution to erosion along the Cape Coast.
A proposal for an $8.5 million redesign around the art gallery and library, as a more connected ‘arts, culture and heritage hub’ with ‘retail possibilities’, is in the LTP. A shortlist from 119 designs via an international competition will be revealed in March.
Investigations are underway for a CBD master plan which could end up in the LTP, but not in this round. Included in that is the possibility of reconnecting Heretaunga St east and west across the railway line at around $3 million.
A 6,000 square metre green park with skating and BMX area is already tabled for the outer CBD and a million dollars is being sought for a new Hastings cemetery.
The council is also looking for an additional $3-5 million to complete the Hawke’s Bay Regional Sport Park – and has just tabled a further $3.51 million for a hockey park and grandstand extension.
Over a million dollars is budgeted this year for compliance and maintenance issues across four Hastings swimming pools but over the next decade that’ll escalate to between $14.4- $30.5 million, including a $14 million District Aquatic Centre to be completed by 2020.
Wayne Bradshaw says projects costing many millions of dollars, largely funded by borrowed money, need to be part of a more cohesive planning process so councillors and ratepayers can prioritise and judge where the value lies and whether the city can afford it.
“Some projects in council get moved up the priority list just because it’s their turn; but I’m saying where do they fit in the big plan and do they enable us to achieve our outcomes?”
Biodiversity big picture
HBRC’s Neil Kirton and others will be pushing for more effective and engaging ways for the council to manage its portfolio of environmental responsibilities.
He wants an immediate commitment to a “long overdue” biodiversity strategy as a “guiding light” to all other investments, including water storage, flood protection, riparian planting and other management regimes.
“Over the last 15 years we planted 440,000 poplar and willow poles, but they’re falling over; the plantings were haphazard and in wrong places … and the Regional Landcare Scheme provided millions of dollars in subsidies for uncertain outcomes.”
Unless a biodiversity strategy is put in place he warns HBRC will keep doing what it’s always done. This clear prescription for the environment would state which species and habitats need protecting and the desired outcomes when targeting land management or conservation.
Currently he says different groups and individuals within HBRC work in isolation and policies often fail to set the right parameters or measure the right things. One of the priorities would be beefing up flood control and stop banks to cope with worst case scenarios.
“We have robust protection at present but because of weather extremes and greater climate risks we ought to be moving from 100-year to 500-year protection regimes. That will be a big capital item.”
Coastal erosion concerns
One of the elephants in the room that seems to be getting bigger, certainly judging by the numbers quoted in diverse reports, is how to deal with the erosion problem along the Cape Coast.
Despite efforts by community group WOW Inc to develop an affordable plan to protect at-risk homes, businesses and infrastructure at the Haumoana end of the coast, numbers have ranged from $7 million to $40.8 million this past year.*
Adding accumulated interest over 25-years and doubling the recommended back fill with enough gravel to fill McLean Park to mitigate minor downstream impacts has made the group wonder it there was ever any serious intent to proceed at all.
Wayne Bradshaw says people shouldn’t be surprised the bulk of feedback on HDC’s website is about the erosion issue, as the council’s fall back position is ‘managed retreat’. “Imagine if someone tried to wipe out Waimarama or any other established community?”
So why is it proving so difficult to get resolution? “Most big organisations have a methodology of taking things they don’t want to discuss and putting them in the too hard basket.”
Bradshaw insists there have to be other ways of looking at the issue. “We need to get an answer, otherwise its going to continue festering and the community will hold grudges.”
Neil Kirton says while erosion is dealt with from a land care and afforestation perspective, there is no reference to developing coastal zone erosion management in any of HBRC’s future planning documents.
“Even though there are plenty of signs it’s an issue, it has not found itself in the right debate.” So why might that be? “The local politicians haven’t pursued it enough I suppose,” says Kirton.
One rule to ring them all?
It is said that millions of dollars could be shaved off annual and long term budgets by putting aside inter-council rivalries, harmonising the paper work and sharing common resources.
Hawke’s Bay Regional councillor Neil Kirton believes governance is the biggest hindrance to regional development. He’s convinced one Hawke’s Bay council with a common structure could deliver economies of scale and strategic thinking around ‘one region, one voice’. “Having five councils makes no sense to me at all.”
And Hastings councillor Wayne Bradshaw is convinced his lot should stop tinkering around with disparate strategies and ideas and devise a master plan to get a better grip on fiscal, developmental and social priorities.
The 10-year plan simply says what the council plans to do with no master vision or connectivity to what the community might want. “Perhaps that’s why only 43% of eligible voters actually turn out to vote.”
Having such a plan would place Hastings in a better position to understand and interact with Napier, for example, which he says is very good at planning. He claims the various councils should be working on a blueprint to align all rules, by-laws, policies and regulatory processes over a specific timeframe.
“We’re all part of the same family so it defies logic that we can’t find ways for Hastings and Napier cities and the regional council to work more closely together on fundamental issues.”
He says the region-wide waste dump at Omarunui is a perfect example of inter-city co-operation leading to savings of a million dollars over the last three years.
Further co-operative approaches might include shared services such as recycling, curbside rubbish collection, backroom services, along with regional planning, tourism, economic development, urban development and funding for sports and community facilities.
*NB: The author discloses a vested interest as a member of WOW Inc.