Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to outline the important issues facing our region for the next three years and beyond. Collectively, support with these issues will make a fundamental difference for the future of our people and the prosperity of the region.
Hawke’s Bay has much to offer as a significant region, but key decisions need to be made that are supported by resources to prevent regional New Zealand (including our own province) from becoming uncompetitive with large urban centres.
You will be aware of our stunning climate, our rural history of quality food production in Hastings and the rebuild from the 1931 earthquake to form Art Deco Napier. These cities are supported by the two important centres of Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay. Despite the perception of abundance, the numbers tell a very different story.
The single most important factor affecting the retention of our people and families is lack of job security and new opportunities. While jobs will be created by macro projects including the Ruataniwha Dam and oil and gas exploration if they proceed, the Government can lead a more hands on intervention.
Technology allows for service centres to be decentralised. IRD once had over 350 people based in its Napier office and it now boasts 30. The reallocation of 300 jobs back to Hawke’s Bay from the main centres is a top priority for us. The cost structure and staff culture would be greatly enhanced and the regional economy significantly boosted. All that is required is a directive to provide a distributed system of government agencies.
Hawke’s Bay people strongly support keeping the region GE Free. This will allow our quality produce to continue to earn a premium in the global marketplace without any adverse downstream effect. The law currently allows this to be done via District Plans. Hastings District, supported by leading growers in the region, is well advanced on this path. Possible changes to the RMA seek to remove this ability from local government and community decisionmaking. This is about enhancing the value of our produce and applies to open trialling and field release of plant material only. We are not against medical use of GE products in medicine. We simply ask that you leave the current legislation as it is.
Napier to Gisborne rail line
The Napier to Gisborne rail line is currently closed by a large washout The National Government and KiwiRail have both advised they are not prepared to make the significant investment required to reopen it and business support is not sufficient to create a commercial model to support its reopening. Wairoa and Gisborne are geographically isolated, but have significant economic potential. This coastal region requires a fit for purpose transport system concentrating on a significant upgrade of the Napier to Gisborne portion of State Highway 2 and sealing of State Highway 38. The rail corridor should be used for a world-class cycle trail. An investment of $50 million will kick start three major projects and finish the current impasse between road and rail.
The Ruataniwha Dam project will provide a massive financial boost to the region if the environmental limits can be agreed and the financial framework is conducive to a high level of farmer uptake. While environmental limits are subject to legal challenge in the courts, it is clear that financial support from the Crown will be required to support any development. While the project has been fast tracked to prevent political uncertainty at the Crown level, projects of this size do take years to complete. The long-term commitment of Crown Irrigation funding and flexibility in approach are key elements of this project until it reaches financial viability.
While the investment in local roads has been increased, it has not kept pace with demand or the required level of service. The current reviews of the FAR (funding assistance rates)and ONRC (one network road classification) systems of funding allocation further stress the rural parts of our network. As a way of redressing the balance away from ‘Roads of National Significance’, we ask that you reintroduce regional fuel taxes, along with local decision-making in priorities and a future focus in local roads.
The monopoly of Air New Zealand on regional air routes needs to be carefully considered by the Crown despite the government shareholding. It is well known that New Zealand’s population supports one and a half airlines, but this significantly disadvantages regional New Zealand. The cost of regional fares is a major disincentive for business and, because of the monopoly situation, this cannot be tested by the market. The Government should commission a study of this issue, including overseas experience, and consider a regulatory response to ensure provincial NZ is getting a fair deal.
Social Sector Reform
The Hawke’s Bay region has some of the poorest social sector statistics in New Zealand. This is not well recognised because the region is a desirable place to live. Unemployment rates, income levels, suicide rates, health and crime statistics for the region are all in the worst quartile.
Nearly $900 million dollars of central government money is spent in these services, yet no relative improvement is being made. Well-intentioned and hard working government agencies and NGO’s are working in this space, but a radical rethink is required.
We are eager to take our own social challenges – disenfranchised youth, health inequities, an ageing population, and more – head-on. Allow us to grapple with these issues with our own hands and local insights, but still within a framework of national standards, expectations and oversight.
Therefore, perhaps my most ‘radical’ request is that Hawke’s Bay should be trialled as the first region to have one chief executive responsible for the total government spend in the region, working under an inter-sectoral plan developed collectively between the mayors and councils, local MP’s and leaders of government departments.
This letter is an attempt to clearly articulate our priorities for your attention and resources. A common approach between your Government and the people of Hawke’s Bay would be greatly appreciated. As a region we are willing to partner with you to enhance the opportunities for the people of Hawke’s Bay. We hope your Government is equally up for the challenge.