HBRC's Hinewai Ormsby and Jon Kingsford at Waiohiki/Redclyffe bridge

What happens when you add $248 million in cyclone recovery projects to a council’s existing workload, with a ‘normal’ operating budget around $77 million and ‘normal’ capital expenditures in the $25-35 million range? How do you get all that new and urgent work smartly planned and implemented … and paid for?

That’s the challenge addressed in a staff paper – HBRC Recovery Work Programme –  presented to HB Regional Councillors last week.

That $248 million covers a host of remediation projects, mostly funded by central government, but including $44 million in extra HBRC co-funding as well – projects to get residents re-situated in ‘Severely Affected Land Areas’ from Pōrangahau  through to Wairoa, pump station and ‘rapid repair’ stopbank upgrades, monitoring and warning telemetry, in-depth flood protection scheme reviews.

The scheme reviews are due in June and presumably will identify additional remediation and future resilience work needed.

The paper described a “significant programme of work that far exceeds the delivery capacity of HBRC’s pre-cyclone delivery model”. 

Not only must ‘hands-on’ work get done, but also a requisite amount of public consultation and ongoing financial accountability and reporting to central government.

Naturally work on this unprecedented scale will be spread across several years. Most council planners are talking of ten-year time frames (with fingers crossed for no additional ‘events’ in that window), but programme escalation costs are estimated at around $2 million per month, adding incentive to move as quickly as possible. Moreover, affected residents and businesses tend to want their areas dealt with first, adding a bit of tension to the process and the staff in charge.

HBRC sought expert advice on how to manage this kind of extraordinary workload and, based on that, will create a new Programme Management Office (PMO) to oversee and deliver all infrastructure projects, to be staffed by 30+ professionals (about a dozen currently in place).

To streamline resource consenting for work related to eight priority areas (Wairoa, Whirinaki, Waiohiki, Ohiti Road/Omahu, Pākōwhai, Pōrangahau, Havelock North, and Awatoto), HBRC and the HB Regional Recovery Agency have been working with the Government on an ‘Order in Council’, which has been approved by Cabinet but requires further consultation with local Māori, local community groups and the general public.

As HBRC and our other councils (HDC, CHBDC and WDC in particular face similar workload issues) proceed with their 3-Year LTP consultations over the next three months, no doubt ratepayers will be shocked at the rate increases being proposed. But the reality is that ‘fixing stuff’ at the order of magnitude our region requires, to say nothing of improving future resilience, is complicated and expensive.

Cyclone Gabrielle aside, a significant amount of this work is due to past councils’ under-spending on crucial infrastructure. Those previous mayors and councils have escaped accountability. As one observer said to me last week … “All we can do now is blame them!”

Our present-day councillors across Hawke’s Bay seem to be addressing these issues ‘eyes wide open’. No ‘we didn’t know’ excuses this time. And ratepayers will need to pick sides – rail against rates, be laser-focused in identifying savings, or accept the reality that a heap of work must get done.


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