Mangarau Stream at flood stage

The Hastings District Council just issued a ‘Newsletter’ describing its recent actions and plans with respect to Havelock North streams and dams.

This coming after years of neglect, but I’ll come back to that point.

The newsletter presents an impressive list of recent activity:

  • Begun works to develop Strategy version one (see more below under strategy development).
  • Begun preparing work plans based on the key recommendations in the T+T report to unlock allocated Crown Funding to deliver the required upgrades of the Mangarau Stream that will help protect 2C properties.
  • Developed a tender document to procure a maintenance contractor, to undertake planned maintenance along the dams and streams, which will be going out to tender in the next month.
  • Reviewed all customer service requests lodged over the last five years, to help identify the issues and concerns called in by community to capture these and be planned for in the planned maintenance contract.
  • With new dam safety regulations (PIC) coming into effect in May, technical specialists are working on behalf of HDC to evaluate the Potential Impact Classification (PIC) of the Havelock North dams. This work evaluates the downstream impacts should the dam fail.
  • Work is underway to develop an emergency action plan for the dams, and streams, anticipated to be complete in late April 2024 and socialised with the community.
  • Ongoing development of priority workstreams that are required

And then describes HDC’s work programme for the next 4-6 week window:

  • Drone surveys of the five Havelock North streams. We will let neighbours of the streams know when this is happening via a letterbox drop, and targeted social media posts
  • To remove a large tree trunk from the upper Mangarau by crane or helicopter (photos below)
  • To call for tenders for the ongoing maintenance contractor along the streams
  • To develop a riparian planting information sheet for residents
  • Continued work to develop the upgrade programme for the 2c area along Joll Road and Plassey Street
  • Ecology and archaeological assessments around the streams to inform future planning and consenting requirements.
  • Engagement with mana whenua to develop principles to applied to the development of the Strategy and priority workstreams
  • To collaborate and work together with the reserves planning team to identify opportunities to enable actions with the proposed reserve management plans for the Havelock Hills.
  • To develop guidance for landowners to better understand responsibilities where the streams run through private property.

All of this sounds great, even ambitious … but is long overdue. And much of it regarding points already made over the years by residents and consultants.

Affected Havelock North residents have amassed scores of photos, email complaints, HDC and government agency reports and comms acquired via persistent OIA requests, and even built Facebook pages to document HDC’s neglect of its maintenance responsibilities for these waterways stretching back for years.

This documentation has included numerous consulting reports describing problems and sounding warnings never acted upon.

The sad tale includes classic responsibility avoidance by two councils – HDC and HBRC – over the dams and waterways. But it’s clear that HDC carried maintenance responsibilities it failed to meet and HBRC carried consent compliance monitoring responsibilities that it seems to have ignored. Shame on both of them!

One might argue – as HDC seems inclined – that it’s time to move on, turn a fresh page and now deal with the problems. Let’s not dwell on the past. Hence this newsletter and the actions it sets out.

I’m inclined to want to look forward as well, but at the same time simply writing off past neglect avoids – and even denies – accountability. HDC has yet to take any explicit responsibility for the state of these waterways pre-cyclone or for the effect of that situation during the flooding event.

Indeed, HDC has steadfastly refused any independent inquiry into the matter, including adding this to the scope of HBRC’s review of all other flood protection readiness and performance. Here – a letter from HBRC chief executive Dr Nic Peet to HDC chief executive Nigel Bickle – is how council bosses typically deal with such matters … they abhor rocking each other’s boats!

Tēnā koe Nigel 

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has commissioned an independent review of its flood schemes and river management in the wake of cyclone Gabrielle. Members of the Havelock North community that were flooded have raised questions with staff and Councillors about whether the Havelock North scheme could be included in the review. 

Following discussion with the independent review panel, it is clear that the Havelock North scheme lies outside the terms of reference for the review. The key reason is that the assets are owned and operated by Hastings District Council. In my view it is important to bring this to your attention, given community concerns, so that Hastings District Council can consider its options. 

 Nāku iti noa, nā 

Dr Nic Peet 
Chief Executive

Notice there’s no mention of HBRC’s consenting role. Does this sound reminiscent of another water-related calamity from the HDC/HBRC recent past?

Such avoidance of accountability should be unacceptable to ratepayers in general and in particular to the Havelock North residents who were severely affected by the cyclone flooding exacerbated by waterway mismanagement.

When council staff ignore complaints, make faulty or lazy judgments, or pursue their own priorities instead, they should be called to account. And if lazy councillors ignore all this clamour around them, they should be called to account as well.

Otherwise the future is guaranteed repeat the past.

So given HDC’s poor performance of the past, the workplan outlined above must be carefully and persistently monitored – by residents, by media (you can count on BayBuzz) and – WOW … imagine! – maybe even by an energised HDC councillor or two. And let’s not leave out the need to rattle HBRC’s cage as well.


Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Tom, thanks for shedding light on the complex issue of the HN Streams flood protection schemes.
    In the early days post-cyclone, I sought & received assurances from HBRC Interim CE Bill Bayfield that these schemes would be included in the HBRC independent flood schemes review.
    Whilst is was disappointing & frustrating to then find the HN schemes excluded in the final Terms of Reference for HBRC’s flood review and that both CEs have been uninterested in reviewing past performance, I have continued to work behind the scenes with various parties to ensure that solutions for the schemes are highly prioritised, thorough & openly communicated. I’m not claiming any credit at all but it is pleasing to see that the work programmes being shaped up by HDC appear to now meet the mark.
    It would have been easy to go ‘full-noise’ on the issue of past maintenance of the schemes but there has been, & continues to be, a range of community views on whether it is productive to rake over the coals of past management, or focus on the fixes instead. I have respected the view of those who have preferred to work constructively with HDC to look to the future, rather than getting diverted by the past.
    Whilst it is easy & tempting to blame the flooding on past mismanagement by HDC, the evidence I’ve seen suggests that the flood impact was as much about localised extreme rainfall intensity in the catchment as lack of maintenance.
    Any sober assessment of the HN Streams flooding also needs to recognise the benefit of hindsight and the complexity of issues around access for maintenance and individual landowner responsibility for maintaining plantings and structures on private land, as well as HDC’s maintenance responsibilities and HBRC’s compliance function.
    I am confident that the current pathway for future flood protection around the HN Streams is robust. Other processes such as involvement of the Office of the Ombudsman may yet shed further light on the past.
    Xan Harding
    Regional Councillor, Heretaunga/Hastings

  2. Good to see this article highlighting our Councils’ combined neglect and complicity in regard to the avoidable flooding that occurred in Havelock North as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle 1 year ago and those ordinary people who have been trying tirelessly to expose these issues. But what about our Councils’ and community’s combined neglect and complicity in regard to the complete loss of water for small communities like mana whenua in Bridge Pa due to the greed and over-allocation of water in our region for decades!! Who gives wider voice to addressing these long-standing injustices in our small poorly resourced communities?

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