Our Councils are drafting their proposed long term council community plans (LTCCPs) that will be issued months from now for official public consultation.

The draft documents will represent consensus thinking within the respective Councils as to what Councillors and staff believe to be reasonable programs and spending levels for the next ten years, with the most critical attention paid to the next three years. In preparing the drafts, a few privileged outside interest groups will have been consulted … most of us will not have been.

Now, there’s inherently malevolent about that … the process needs to begin somewhere. And citizens or groups who seriously prepare themselves to make their voice heard early in the process would probably get the hearing they deserve.

But the reality is still that these plans won’t be on the radars of most ratepayers until the draft documents are issued … with heaps of momentum and political investment already behind them. And because the draft plans are largely internally generated, they are not likely to surface much in the way of “radical” alternatives or “out of the box” thinking. Instead, they will mostly present a great deal of incremental add-ons to programs and spending already undertaken … “Shall we add one public toilet block a year, or two?”

Hoping against the odds, here are some alternative questions or approaches I would like to see included in the draft plans put to the public …

1. Let’s take a demographic look at our needs and objectives over the planning period. Will we be doing enough for senior citizens, for teens, for families with children? Whose needs might increase the most? Life stage is an important lens through which people view local government responsibilities … and they can relate to issues and trade-offs presented from this perspective.

2. What, concretely, might “sustainability” actually look like at different levels of local government commitment … both in terms of Councils’ own operations and in programs that involve the public? What’s the price tag and benefits of different levels of commitment? For example, what might a region-wide “sustainable homes” (i.e., well-insulated, healthy heating) initiative look like?

3. What projects or initiatives might our Councils undertake in a truly collaborative manner over the planning period? Some — in areas like procurement and regulation — might be designed simply to realise cost savings and improve program delivery efficiencies. Others — like infrastucture planning and unified district plans — because they produce more sound growth and environmental protection strategies. Why not give us a whole list of these … afraid we’ll approve?

4. Speaking of the environment, how might Councils, in their ten year plans, identify a common set of objectives and programs to raise the bar for protecting the region’s natural assets and environmental health? This alone would be a far cry from the buck-passing and adversarial relations that now seem to be the Councils’ modus operandi.

5. How will Maori aspirations be incorporated more organically into Councils’ planning and program priorities over the next ten years, as Maori increase in both proportion of population and resources to participate in local government decision-making?

6. What alternative economic assumptions should be considered as the underpinning of different Council spending scenarios … especially over the next three — likely to be challenging — years? Forget property values … will family real incomes, which determine ability to pay rates, rise or fall over the next three years? How should this impact the rates and budgets Councils are prepared to impose?

7. How, if at all, will Councils’ spending over the next ten years be linked to some shared vision for the region? Do we envision Hawke’s Bay as a gigantic retirement village for seniors on limited incomes, as a privileged playground for the wealthy, as still grounded in more “business-as-usual” farming and horticulture, as an exporter (or importer) of young families and professionals, as a sports mecca, as a two-day stop-over for transient tourists and cruise ships … as some compatible combination of these?

Indeed, do we have one vision in Hastings, another in Napier, another at the Regional Council? Isn’t the long term planning process the place to form and align these visions, and then allocate all of the region’s governmental spending against them? Might not the various Councils consult jointly with the public to consider these issues?

And once we’ve done that, wouldn’t we have a better blueprint with which to guide all the private voluntary effort (and capital) that can be marshalled in support of genuinely shared regional objectives? Just as the LTCCP process yields a portfolio of priority investments for the public sector, so too could it yield a portfolio of complementary investments to be undertaken by the voluntary community in some prioritised manner.

Until any of the above happens, be content to play down in the weeds if you get involved in the LTCCP process. Be prepared to plead for a bit more spending on your favorite park, footpath, community group or public toilet block. Remember, small is beautiful.


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