On Monday, the Napier City Council issued a press release headlined: A United Napier City Council Responds to the Amalgamation Debate.

It notes that Napier Councillors “met informally” to discuss a presentation on amalgamation made by Lawrence Yule, during which he revealed a poll indicating sharply diminished opposition to amalgamation amongst Napier residents.

Given that they made a “unanimous” decision in private to oppose amalgamation (hence the press release), it would seem that the Councillors’ meeting violated the open meetings law. Councillors’ panic to protect their arses jobs obviously required drastic action. But I digress. I’m sure it was a robust, fact-filled discussion that would have edified the public.

NCC says that it is responding to a “debate” about amalgamation.

However, the debate hasn’t even begun.

Certainly not in any informed manner designed to truly engage the public. Unless Mayor Yule folds his tent and slinks away (not likely), the debate will unfold, whether the Napier Council likes it or not.

Pathetically, what the Napier Council is really responding to is fear … fear that they might lose this debate, and possibly their jobs. So best to try and call it off, or pre-empt it.

Mayor Yule’s poll of 500 Napier residents, a professionally-conducted random survey, showed 46% were opposed to a merger of the two local authorities and the regional council, while 39% were in support. Thirteen per cent were neutral.

Compare 46% opposition now, to 75% opposition to amalgamation amongst Napier voters in the 1999 referendum on the subject. Who knows what an intelligent study and debate of the issues might do? It might push opposition up; it might generate majority support for a change.

The latter is an outcome that petrifies Napier Councillors. They say a debate will “cause unnecessary distress and uncertainty.” For whom? Themselves! [And we won’t even talk about Regional Councillors, most of whom appear equally distressed.]

Oddly, Napier Councillors feel no responsibility whatsoever to the 39% of their constituents who presently favour amalgamation … to say nothing of the further 13% who are presently neutral. Those constituents – combined, a majority – have been told by their elected representatives to stuff it.

However, amalgamation is not some wild-assed idea to be simply dismissed without serious consideration. A strong case can be made for it. Obviously that case must withstand a vigorous public test. It must address and overcome deeply felt concerns about a political merger of various jurisdictions, identify substantial benefits, and illustrate how local community identities and prerogatives would be protected … even enhanced. That’s the very point of putting the issue on the table for public review.

Napier’s Mayor and Councillors might choose to sit out the debate. That would be spectacularly arrogant, and an irresponsible abrogation of their duty to represent all of their constituents.

But really, who cares whether current Napier officeholders make themselves irrelevant? Does it matter? The debate will happen with or without them. The community will take charge of the discussion if its ‘leaders’ fail to do so.

Tom Belford

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21 Comments

  1. a somewhat rabid and biased interpritation of the merger scenario

    please remember that the residents of Napier elect a Council to make decisions on their behalf

    If the people of Napier do not like the decisions then they can vote the current Council out.

    FYI – I was until now, ambivalent about the merger – now I am firmly against it … remember as a nonresident you actually don't have any say in what Napier decided…..

  2. Little wonder as they only have a postage stamp sized area to look after, so none of them would want to increase their workload, plus those in Hastings wouldn't want their over zealous parking wardens stalking the parked cars in their patch…….LOL!!!

  3. I’m not distressed about amalgamation; I’m for it and always have been.

    Ewan McGregor, Regional Councillor.

  4. The so called amalgamation debate is nothing but a planned National Party strategy to try and take people's minds off the serious problems confronting our region after five years of Foss, Tremain and Yule working together as one. It worked for them 2008, with the DHB ruse, so they're giving it another go.

  5. "a strong case can be made for it" Tom? gee, i'd really like to hear that. as, i'm sure, would everyone else. until we do hear it, anyone making blanket statements that assume such a case can be made is simply propagandizing… something i thought Baybuzz liked to skewer whenever practicable.

    and Bill: you're having one of your on-top days, aren't you? ;))

  6. Hawke's Bay. Population, some 130 odd thousand people. 3 mayors, one chair, and some 50 odd (mostly unemployable in the real world' councillors. Must surely count for the biggest over governed little province in NZ. Let us hope! Honest consideration for the public purse, forward thinking common sense, comes well before, the protecting of ones arse!

    David Bosley

  7. Regarding Lawrence's recent poll & the fact he won't even name the others behind it: the poll is untrustworthy in itself as the only people who were phoned are those who have a landline for a starter! How many thousands of our citizens don't have a landline anymore? ie, the majority of our people weren't even included in the poll. This same fact applies to any telephone polling whether it's about the amalgamation issue or anything else. Will Lawrence provide the demographic details of who was phoned and where in Napier they live? Not likely as it would prove my point.

    Re former councillor Bosley's comments: you had your chance and I don't recall you ever going into bat FOR Napier citizens on this issue during your term. And as for the insulting remarks, how many more years of the same ol' Boz aye..nothing of any real essence to say but a lot of personality-knocking. And by the way Boz, I'm very employable in the 'real world' but I chose to represent the citizens of Napier & over the past 15yrs Napier people have said to me they are NOT interested in even looking at the option of local govt amalgamation. As I've worked across both cities for many years I've also had Hastings people tell me the same thing so I don't buy into the 'Hastings people are all pro-amalgamation & Napier people are increasingly agreeing' proposition. Amalgamation won't solve the economic slump issues, it won't solve our social & poverty-related issues, it won't save millions of dollars for ratepayers and it won't provide a 'magic bullet' for the region to suddenly 'be seen' by central govt as a region they'll put extra resourcing into. I agree with Bill Sutton on his point though that often a 'distraction issue' is ramped-up publicly so people won't notice what the govt's real agenda is.

  8. Only wish the fish would bite as good as Cr Pike. Clearly struck a raw nerve – and the truth hurts!

  9. The debt differential alone rules out any chance of amalgamation. Napier has $4m debt and Hastings $60m, expected to go to $90m in a couple of years. Tremain, Foss and Yule haven't actually put up a plan, or even a coherent reason, for amalgamation and yet there are plenty of sound arguments against a council merger.

    Let's talk about informed debate: i have no doubt that once the people of Napier have the facts in front of them the percentage against amalgamation will be higher than in 1999. And i will make it one of my missions to get the facts out there. The fact that Hastings-based HB regional councillor Ewan McGregor is for amalgamation drives me even harder after seeing the way he treats Napier leaseholders.

    You are right Tom, the community will take charge, but the leaders based in Napier who care very much about the people who call Napier home will drive this ill-conceived plan into the ground where it belongs, and bury it once and for all.

  10. Stuart Nash, I am struggling to know whether you are incredibly stupid or just plain deceptive? Given the portfolios you hold for your party, I am inclined to think it's the later.

    Also given the misinformation you recently put out regarding farmers and their payment of tax suggests you have a consistent issue with truthfulness. Care to clarify?

    The major focus you seem to have is debt. You well know that the debt issue can be relatively easily handled through differential rating. This has always been help up as the huge hurdle, it's not and you know it.

    You also argue that Yule hasn't put up a compelling reason why? Surely there is a clear reason why, it's plainly evident to me and based upon the weekend's Hawke's Bay Today article it appears to be pretty evident to the vast majority of the Bay's leaders.

    Our beautiful region, the land of milk and honey comes last or very close to last in almost every single economic and social indicator available. We have so much going for us and yet we squander it through petty infighting as the rest of New Zealand leaves us in their wake. The only way we will change this is through a region wide united vision and a collective package of action. The only way I can see this happening is amalgamation, as we've proven that we are totally incapable of doing it within current structures.

    So why are you against a feasibility study? If you are so confident in your assertion that amalgamation is a bad idea, then surely such a study would find in your favour. Or perhaps you are not so confident, as feasibility studies are not based on propaganda and fear?

    Stuart you consistently accuse others of making decisions based on little to no information and yet you go and do the same. The unfortunate thing is that you are in a position to spread your bias far and wide.

    I'm a Napier ratepayer and I'm perturbed that you continually espouse to represent the views of Napier residents. You don't, you certainly don't represent me. Come to think of it you weren't even elected by the people of Napier….you are one of those costly add no value whatsoever list MPs.

    And that it seems is what your position is all about. It's not about what's best for Hawke's Bay it's about what is best for your political butt.

  11. 1. Hastings District Council can't even run Hastings. How the hell is it supposed to run the rest of the region?

    2. If you like what Hastings has done to Havelock North you will love what it does to Napier.

  12. I'm a bit lost by Dale's comment, as far as I am aware we're not debating which council should take over?

    Amalgamation isn't about take over, it's about getting the best for Hawke's Bay through united vision and collective action.

    Glad we are all so grown up and can take a rational look at things…..pffft

  13. Mike – you've nailed your colours to the mast with your last couple of paragraphs and so your credibility with me is zero. I come from a position of having grown up in Napier, and am part of a family that has lived in this wonderful city for nearly 150 years.

    But this isn't about me, or my 'political butt'; its about what is right for Napier. And don't throw in that differential rating argument. Its a load of rubbish. Hasn't worked anywhere else in the world and you know it wouldn't work here.

    I will ask once again SHOW ME A PLAN.!

    As for representing the views of those in Napier – of course there are those who have different views than me. I have, however, listened to many local residents, as well as formed my own opinions by looking at the arguments put forward by, for example, you, Tremain, Yule and Foss, and quite frankly, they simply don't stack up. The 'petty infighting' argument is old hat. You have bought into a historical myth. Barbara and Lawrence actually work very closely together on the issues affecting the Bay.

    As for being stupid or deceptive: I am neither, but unlike some other politicians, you will always know where I stand on an issue. I will always give you the reasons for my stance and you can make your own mind up as to whether you agree with me or not. That, my friend, is democracy.

  14. Stuart I assume by "showing my colours" you are inferring some sort of alignment with a political party other than the one you represent. I'd go as far to say that it's probably an inference that I'm a National supporter, akin to Foss and Tremain.

    That my friend is very presumptuous and also incorrect. Without turning this into a political issue (which it isn't, this matter should transcend petty party lines and electioneering) I for the most part have been a consistent Labour supporter, though I won't be under your current hapless leadership and I sure won't be voting for a luddite.

    I'll give you that Arnott and Yule are collegial and can smile for a photo together, however you have to be kidding to suggest that Napier and Hastings Council's work together well. Shared services have been on the agenda for many years, show me some meaningful progress here? Oh wait there hasn't been any. Where's the shared district plan? Oh wait there isn't one.

    There is however one thing we agree on, infighting is old hat. Unfortunately though it's the single thing which has been holding us back since the twin cities were created. I'd recommend that you talk to local historian Michael Fowler and he can give you a vast chronology where our divisive approach has been to the detriment of Hawke's Bay. There are many many many examples.

    Lastly, your point about differential rating shows that you have little to no understanding of the local government sector. Differential rating is actually employed effectively right throughout New Zealand, I can give you countless examples and I don't for one moment proclaim to be an expert.

    I bet you are hoping like hell your party's fortunes don't continue to decline, otherwise being 27th on the list could be a little problematic.

  15. " Come to think of it you weren’t even elected by the people of Napier….you are one of those costly add no value whatsoever list MPs". That's what I mean Mike. Also, it is my experience that when one stoops to personal name calling, one has lost the substantive argument. Thanks for conceding :-)

  16. I've heard better comebacks from a high school debate team.

    But you take that win Stuart, it'll be the only one you experience in the near future.

  17. A question for Stuart Nash. Do you propose to represent the people of Napier, or the Napier electorate come November? I think you will find that the Napier electorate takes in the greater part of the Hastings District Council. Please enlighten prospective voters who you wish to represent with your shall we say, interesting views!

  18. Let's try to get back to the topic of amalgamation shall we? It's an important issue and merits a considered response.

    Our local daily newspaper HBToday, which I have happily subscribed to since I returned to Napier in 2007, published a long feature article on July 9th purporting to show “strong support from prominent local people” for “a merger of local councils in Hawke’s Bay”. Very few letters responding to the article have been published, although I understand quite a few were received.

    In my opinion the article was deficient on two grounds: firstly, the “amalgamation” proposal people were asked to comment on was not defined; and secondly, the people whose comments were invited were a biased sample. Nevertheless the article contained valuable information.

    On the definition of “amalgamation”, the published responses showed some people thought it meant combining the Napier and Hastings councils only, some thought it meant including the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council as well, and some thought it would include Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa. These are 3 quite different propositions. Asking for yes/no opinions on amalgamation, without first defining which proposal we are talking about, tells us very little.

    Moving to the sample, it is generally accepted that big business, big farming and most Hastings people support amalgamation, while most Napier, Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa people oppose it. Yet the HBToday sample, so far as I could tell, contained around three quarters selected from the known “pro amalgamation” groups and only one quarter from the others. And there was nobody – not one “prominent person” – from either Wairoa or Central Hawke’s Bay. Perhaps that is why so many people from these districts don’t like the idea of amalgamation into a “greater Hastings” – they would routinely be ignored. And why should big business and big farming leaders have such a large say on amalgamation? This is a public governance issue, not a business decision.

    But the article was most informative, I felt, on the reasons given by amalgamation supporters. Of the 24 people in favour, 2 referred to “benefits” without defining them, 3 thought it was the “way of the future” without saying why, 4 thought the “status quo” wasn’t good enough but didn’t say why this would change, one was for “regional unity”, one felt there had been “opportunities lost” in the past, 2 wanted “better policy alignment” and one wanted “better marketing”. Almost nobody gave specific examples. The two more favoured reasons given were that 10 thought amalgamation would “reduce costs” and 6 thought a “vision” was needed and would somehow emerge.

    Yet the published studies of local government amalgamation in New Zealand have not shown reduced costs for delivering the same services. In the cases where costs have been reduced, this has been because services have been cut. If that is what people want, they can easily achieve it, under the existing councils, by voting for councillors who favour slashing services. So far most voters have rejected this approach.

    As for “vision”, there has yet to be one example cited on how “vision” has improved the performance of government at any level, be it local, national or international. And “vision” of this sort simply can’t be measured. If the fluff put forward by the two local National Party MPs in their taxpayer-funded advertisements represents “vision”, then I’ll do without it, thank you!

    It will take more substance than this to persuade most Napier, Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay people, or their representatives, to join together under the “greater Hastings” approach being promoted by Mayor Yule and his friends.

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