Dig into the issues!

Since our last edition, consideration of Hawke’s Bay’s two blockbuster issues – amalgamation and the CHB dam – has progressed in important ways.

In November, the Local Government Commission issued its recommended option for Hawke’s Bay – a single unitary authority consolidating all five councils in our region.

And starting 18 November, the Wellington-appointed Board of Inquiry (BOI) began to hear evidence and submissions on the Regional Council’s proposed management plan for the Tukituki catchment, together with consent applications for the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme. Our update on the process is at page 30.

With the dam process in a ‘quiet phase’ until the BOI issues a draft decision in February, the amalgamation debate will probably feature in the public eye over the next several weeks.

The LGC is taking submissions on its preferred option through 7 March, to be followed by public hearings and an LGC-sponsored region-wide opinion survey on amalgamation. We can expect fierce debate on the issue, including a war of submissions and public consultation efforts.

Given that NCC has already decided it has a mandate to submit in opposition to amalgamation, Mayor Dalton (elected by less than 20% of eligible Napier voters) and his council have put a new spin on ‘consultation’, renaming it ‘engagement’.

However, before succumbing to ‘Dalton delusion’, I urge residents of Hawke’s Bay to actually read the report of the Loc al Government Commission, which provides a lucid rationale for the recommendations made.

And if you’re seriously concerned, you might examine the several hundred pages of supporting analyses of the Hawke’s Bay situation, prepared by consultants who actually conferred with locals and dug into councils’ budgets and plans, as well as regional economic and social data. The LGC proposal and all supporting material is at www.lgc.govt.nz

As important as these matters are, however, we should not lose sight of a few other critical issues that were tabled before Christmas.

Dr Russell Wills, our local pediatrician who serves as the Children’s Commissioner, issued Child Poverty in NZ: Building on progress to date, which reported that, appallingly, fully 25% of New Zealand’s children live in poverty. This report and its supporting website is at www.childpoverty.co.nz

Dr Wills was obliged to organize private financing of the report on his own, after the Government rejected his request to publish official measures and targets. An expert advisory appointed a year earlier had proposed a new law requiring the Government to measure child poverty, set targets to reduce it, and report annually to Parliament on progress towards those targets.

Unfortunately, this is an aspect of New Zealand’s reality that the National Government would prefer to sweep under the carpet.

The Government could also do without the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who issued her report: Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution. The Commissioner, who understatedly terms her report “not good news”, observes: “It is almost inevitable that without significantly more intervention, we will continue to see an on-going deterioration in water quality in many catchments across the country…”

The culprit is land use intensification, especially more dairying, of precisely the type promised by the CHB dam scheme. So as the BOI plays around with ‘mitigation’ measures, it’s worth noting a key conclusion of the report: “Mitigation may be able to ‘hold the line’ or even reduce nutrient losses in some cases. But mitigation cannot offset the increase in nutrients that comes from large-scale change to more intensive land uses.” This report is at www.pce.parliament.nz

Adding to our challenges, councillors from throughout the region were briefed recently on the latest findings regarding the impact of climate change on our coastal environment. This report, prepared by US oceanographer Dr Paul Komar, will be completed and released in January. The conclusions will come as no surprise – a sea rise of one metre by the end of the century will produce serious problems for Hawke’s Bay, especially in light of expected higher storm surges and waves.

The Regional Council is planning a coastal strategy review involving all stakeholders, and a workplan for that inquiry will be brought forward in June.

None of these reports is a scintillating novel. If it’s escape you want this summer, stay away from them.
But the reality is, you can’t escape these issues. Each has huge implications for the future of Hawke’s Bay.
If you do nothing more, pick just one – amalgamation, the dam, child poverty, protecting water quality, regional impact of climate change – study up and speak out.

Tom Belford

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