To put this year’s agenda in context we need to first reflect on 2009.
It was a year of challenges, role definition and several momentous decisions that will impact the region for years to come.
The challenges included survival. As 2009 began, with the new National-led Government keen to effect change, the prospect was that a Wellington-based Environmental Protection Agency would take over our resource management functions; catchment-based Water Boards would assume water allocation and monitoring; and up to seven River Boards modelled on the Waikato Tainui settlement, resulting from Treaty Settlements in our region, would fragment rivers management and marginalise or replace our democratically elected Council.
Over and above that, Regional Councils generally were copping severe criticism (sometimes justified) over seeming inability to protect our environment, particularly water quality.
I thought, unless we substantially upped our game and effectively refuted our critics, we’d face about a 50% chance of being around as an institution within three years (with or without amalgamation).
I now revise that to a 90% chance of survival as the realities of the relevance of Regional Councils and the cost, disruption and loss of democratic accountability (inherent in radical reform proposals) sinks in with a Government now much more experienced and pragmatic than a year ago.
Challenges to survival focus the mind! And so this Council has thought hard about its responsibility and potential to influence our region’s environmental and economic development in a unique way. We are determined to combine our science and engineering knowledge and expertise, our investment portfolio wealth, and our power to set rules and regulate, as powerful complementary levers to effect significant outcomes.
For example, the water storage project in Central Hawke’s Bay could result in hundreds of millions of dollars of new wealth generation for this region. Expertise in water science and storage will influence the shape of the project. Our ability to fund (together with partners) the feasibility studies will insulate eventual investors from the initial high risk phase of the project. Our investment portfolio can help fund cornerstone investment in the infrastructure itself. And our ability to regulate through resource management plans will ensure sustainable use and protection of the enhanced water resource.
No other organisation has the capacity to launch a project of such potential and hopefully bring it to fruition well within the next decade. The fact that we are a public body, there to serve and democratically accountable to electors and ratepayers also helps provide the trust and confidence vital to ensuring public and stakeholder support for the scheme.
Last year saw the confirmation of a huge change in the Council’s strategy for use of the investment portfolio. The priority now is that yes, we want a reasonable rate of return to offset rates, but that investments should work for and in Hawke’s Bay to maximise economic and environmental benefits for the region.
Our partnering with the Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay Councils in land disposal of sewage effluent to plantation forests, is an example of the positive use of the Council’s financial wealth. Effluent removed from Tukituki for environmental gain, economic benefits for Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay ratepayers in project cost savings and a reasonable return on investment for regional ratepayers through the forestry ventures.
Other significant decisions included the purchase of degraded pastoral land in Tutira for a model forestry conversion including carbon trading; becoming the 100% owner of the Port; allocating six million dollars to assist the major community facility projects such as the HB Museum redevelopment, Hastings Velodrome and the Central Hawke’s Bay Town Hall project; putting together a package to help households insulate and replace inefficient burners to clear up our winter air pollution problem; and implementing an Ombudsman’s requirement to publicly identify suspected or actual contaminated sites.
Another landmark decision was to take action on pollution of the Mohaka River arising from farming intensification in the Tahaurua catchment. Whilst collaborative arrangements with landowners, including assistance from our land management team, ranks high in mitigation measures, this Council for the first time has decided to regulate nutrient inputs and outputs if necessary to fix the problem. An important precedent.
Moving to 2010 – I see it largely as a period of consolidation and implementation of the major decisions made last year to start producing the desired outcomes. For example, the CHB sewage scheme will take time to move through consenting, construction and forestry planting before the environmental benefits for the Tukituki are seen. Similarly, containment of nutrient flows into the Tahaurua/Mohaka involve completion of scientific studies, plan change processes to effect nutrient controls, and land management adaptation … all take time and effort.
Focus on implementation will be a priority for the Council’s strategy for improve its management of the water resource in the Heretaunga and Ruataniwha aquifers and the $2 million feasibility study for the water storage project will swing into high gear.
A crucial decision will result from Central Government decisions on the method of co-governance of natural resources, inherent in the settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims of 6-7 claimant groups across Hawke’s Bay over the next few years. The forerunner of these will be the Crown’s settlement of the Ngati Pahauwera claim in the Mohaka region which is imminent. Change and power sharing is inevitable and should be embraced in good faith, but we must avoid the Waikato Tainui precedent, with Rivers Boards being multiplied across this region.
Resource management plan policy reviews should be under development this year for stormwater and waste water quality standards, and recommendations adopted from the Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Study will be proposed to be integrated into the Council’s Regional Policy Statement.
Perhaps not so many dramatic decisions and issues this year, but instead the hard graft of making things happen to get things done.