As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice in Wonderland, any road will do when you don’t know where you are going. I often think we are a bit like this in Hawke’s Bay.

We have plenty of opportunities and alternate roads.  Our guide posts are often confused by five different councils, a plethora of government agencies and departments, and each of us of course, with our own needs, wants and ideas.

For example, we do have a Hawke’s Bay Regional Economic Strategy, twenty-one pages of close type, signed elaborately by the five councils and HB Inc, now a business unit of the regional council. But none seem to take much notice of this strategy …perhaps  because it is full of platitudes and not enough detail that our councils or the private sector can action.

This begs the question: Who does plan for Hawke’s Bay? And as the Cheshire Cat also said in response to Alice, “it depends on where you want to get to.”

This brings me to the generously-named Long Term Council Community Plan, or LTCCP for short. Only a dose of bureaucrats could have come up with this phrase so reminiscent of the old Soviet Union.  Councils look at these plans in detail every three years within a ten year horizon; late this year our Hawke’s Bay councils will review their LTCCPs.

But before we get keen about this process, let’s recognize that these documents are layer after layer of policies, programmes, strategies and objectives . To wade through this, one has to be heroic … or at least masochistic.  Part of the reason is the government requirements about these plans; but undeniably, part is that councils simply get into too many words. For example, most councils have two volumes and one even has three.  I find these documents hard to read or understand. I guess we all do, including I dare say, many councillors.

So what  should be in this Plan?

For one thing, I think it should be an uplifting document not just a turgid list of platitudes.

I would like to see some strong commitment to getting the region genuinely integrated – one District Plan for the Heretaunga Plains, with joint hearing committees and decisions fully in public.  Shared consistent services between the councils would be an effective and efficient idea, with genuine planning and support for projects … not a Regional Sports Park in one direction, and cultural investments in another. It’s not a competition, it is a community … the community of Hawke’s Bay.  And let’s get Hawke’s Bay “moving” – the airport extension, increasing direct public transport between the cities, and heavy duty roads.

And what about rates? Well, government is not about a ‘select’ group  increasing costs, seemingly, as if it was private money.  Rates should be at inflation, or just above this if real population growth has occurred.  Any further need should be managed by internal efficiencies or prioritization.  Business and households have to do this, so why not councils? The LTCCP process is not an excuse to trigger local inflation.

And whatever happened to sustainability? It should penetrate our policies, whether it is business or community.  Urban and rural planning needs to be re-orientated to build this into the shape of our cities  and communities to minimize the carbon footprint.  I don’t see much of this in the council debates to date.  It is actually not difficult, but we have to change the headspace. Councils seem to be spending a lot of their effort on their own green credentials, their internal operations, rather than looking at their responsibility to plan and lead the wider community to more sustainable paths.

And above all, treat the LTCCP process as informed consultation, not simply a p.r. job to be ticked off. Early listening and public participation would be a good start.

Curiously, LTCCP coordination is undertaken by a group of CEOs or equivalents from the local states and the central government local heads.  No one else.  Where are the other community agendas that need to be reflected?  Well, apparently, we get involved when it is drafted and printed up.  Too late I say.  Today’s process misses the fundamental point of local government — people have to say what they want for their future.

The people of Hawke’s Bay  must state their aspirations now, not leave it to some bureaucratic summit.  After all the word “community” is mentioned in the acronym LTCCP – not just the word “council”.

Community is the idea – council is actually just a method of delivering our idea.

Alice would be keen that we would then have a clear road to travel – so would we in Hawke’s Bay.

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