The HB Regional Council has set in motion a commendable quest for strategic vision.

The public portion of this process kicked off last Thursday, with a challenging presentation by journalist and author Rod Oram (Reinventing Paradise) to a large audience of local opinion leaders.

The crux of his message was: Everything we can do in New Zealand, someone else in the world can do … and sometimes better. So, to prosper, Kiwis will need to be remarkably imaginative to figure out how to best and uniquely add value to what we do and produce. And like most 21st century thinkers, Oram advises that economic prosperity and environmental stewardship are inextricably linked (though he quibbles philosophically with the concept of human “stewardship” over nature).

If done vigorously and well, and if done with intellectual courage, the HBRC process cannot avoid rattling cages, threatening fiefdoms and challenging previously unquestioned assumptions and routines.

It will be interesting to see then, for example, how our local territorial governments respond to HBRC “re-visioning” of how the region should use (or conserve) its land and water, or site its major community facilities.

Will HBRC in fact advance big ideas (and screen out the losers) … and will other local bodies swallow them, or simply re-assert their own prerogatives?

At the moment, no Councillor is likely to snipe at the HBRC’s strategic process … at least not in public view. Right now, the issue of inter-Council camaraderie is an academic one. It will be awhile before HBRC serves up its first fat pitch to fellow Councils. Then we’ll see who takes the first whack at it!

On its face, it would appear that HBRC is out faster on the strategic course than its companions. By comparison, the Napier City Council can’t handle naming a sub-division or retiring a worn-out dolphin, let alone project a strategic vision. While in Hastings District, “visioning” seems to devolve to the guy with the fattest wallet and hottest project du jour.

Don’t get me wrong … BayBuzz is not getting sweet on Rex McIntyre & Company! I found stuff to complain about in my Submission on the HBRC Draft Annual Plan. It’s just that at least they’ve given themselves the potential to think more systematically and holistically about the future, and on the proper scale … the region.

Of course this might turn out to be a tortoise and hare story. With the HBRC as hare speeding out ahead and tripping all the political minefields, leaving the tortoise local bodies to plod ahead safe and sure.

It seems to me that if the HBRC wants to provide leadership in this endeavor, it will need to re-invent the process of public engagement and education around public issues. It will need to interest and energize citizens about its agenda as that begins to take shape. And then rely on those citizens to champion its case before local bodies.

All of which brings us back to the starting point … will the Regional Council be up to the challenge it has set for itself? Will the lofty ideas of guys like Rod Oram ever do more than stimulate a few moments of pleasant breakfast chatter?


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