At the national level, more ‘election fallout’ analysis has focused on Labour’s meltdown than expectations regarding a third National Government. But National’s continuation in power has important implications for Hawke’s Bay.

Election over, the Local Government Commission will press ahead on amalgamation. Most importantly, the process for local approval of any recommended reorganisation remains unchanged – only a region-wide majority can block amalgamation, no local minority vetoes, assuming a referendum occurs next year.

Stuart Nash, who has both fueled and ridden Napierites’ opposition to amalgamation, will remain at the forefront of the opposition campaign. That’s probably best for the opposition, as even amalgamation foes find Mayor Dalton’s rants increasingly embarrassing.

Which one is the social activist here?

Nash needs to devote attention to shoring up his political base. Although in some commentary Nash is portrayed as the shining beacon in Labour’s thumping, in reality he won but 43% of the electorate vote, with ACT’s Garth McVicar pulling 7,603 votes, a significant majority of which would have been won by National’s Wayne Walford.

Nash improved his vote by 1,707 votes over 2011 … arguably not a resounding result given that he spent the last three years, non-stop, pushing every local hot button he could find. That said, Nash outpaced the Labour party vote in Napier by almost 6,000 votes, demonstrating the wisdom of the locally-focused campaign he ran. And he won’t relent over the next three years, realizing he might not luck into split opposition the next time!

Meantime, Craig Foss won slightly over 51% of the votes in his Tukituki constituency, about 800 fewer than 2011. With 33% of the vote, Labour’s Anna Lorck won 2,329 more votes than Labour’s 2011 candidate.

More impressively, Lorck won almost 4,000 more votes than the Labour party vote in Tukituki. Like Nash, she proved the effectiveness of running hard on local issues.

Lorck the ‘loser’ is more the post-election story than Foss the winner. Foss has probably peaked, both in terms of Tukituki appeal and parliamentary standing. As would be true of anyone who won over 12,000 votes in Hawke’s Bay, Lorck is now a political force to be reckoned with, if she chooses to remain engaged.

Accused during the campaign of being a closet Nat, Lorck worked hard to establish herself as a champion of the people on issues like state housing. Was it shrewd posturing or heartfelt commitment? Now appointed as official spokesperson for the Tukituki constituency for the next three years, she has a platform. Watch this space.

While the national outcome might advantage supporters of amalgamation, it carries mixed implications for other regional causes.

Supporters of restoring the Napier-Gisborne rail link cannot be celebrating, despite Simon Bridges replacing railroad foe Gerry Brownlee as Transportation Minister.

Supporters of the Ruantaniwha dam are now assured that taxpayer money – in the realm of $100 million – will be readily available to subsidise the dam, but only if CHB farmers front up with the requisite volume of irrigation water purchases (more on that below).

Supporters of oil and gas development in the region can also rejoice, given that the National Government is unshakably determined to exploit this resource and has shown no commitment to ensuring adequate environmental protections are first in place. Yet to be tested is what happens if an aroused regional council adopts tough regulatory measures that oil companies regard as ‘too onerous’. Would Wellington allow regional values to prevail over National’s determination to drill?

This same ‘local values versus National pre-emption’ scenario applies to whether Hawke’s Bay remains free of GMOs.

Supporters of keeping Hawke’s Bay GMO-free, organized as Pure Hawke’s Bay, have begun to build a political base by winning support from the Hastings Council. Pure Hawke’s Bay is supported by a huge array of the region’s most prominent and successful growers and farmers. And polling in the region shows that the GMO-free proposition enjoys overwhelming public support. But as then-Environment Minister Amy Adams made plain while campaigning in Hawke’s Bay – National is steadfastly opposed to local decision-makers ‘interfering’ in this matter.

On other ‘green’ matters, to the region’s 6,276 Green Party voters (and their less bold sympathisers voting National and Labour), the National win spells trouble as well.

Count on Nash to keep truckin’

Most notably, the assault on the RMA will re-launch, with National holding the one ACT vote they need in Parliament to work their will, despite expected protests from Maori, United Future, Labour and Green MPs. The emasculation of DoC as a significant conservation advocate will continue. Marine sanctuaries will still be opened to oil and gas development; conservation land to logging and coal mining. In short, wherever environmental prudence might be warranted over economic development, expect the reverse.

Advocates of more central government support for regional economic development will be hamstrung by the region’s parliamentary voices being an out-of-Cabinet MP Foss and an opposition MP Nash. Nash says he wants to make Hawke’s Bay’s economic development his primary focus, but it is not yet clear what his programme would be or how he intends to make an impact.

Mayor Yule has been the most energetic local elected official in the economic development space, abetted in part by government access available through his Local Government New Zealand presidency.

In contrast, Mayor Dalton is likely to be less welcome in Wellington, doing no favours for his Napier constituency by having accused the Prime Minister of a “blatant lie” regarding amalgamation.

The Hastings Council (HDC) has committed the most resources to economic development in terms of staff and dollars, as well as ongoing support to Business Hawke’s Bay. And Councillor John Roil serves as liaison to Business Hawke’s Bay.

Mayor Yule has tasked HDC’s economic development unit with developing 1,000 jobs over five years. His latest project involves nurturing a relationship with the city of Dezhou in Shandong Province, billed as China’s ‘solar capital’. The goal is securing Chinese solar investment here in Hawke’s Bay; Dezhou’s mayor is visiting in November to progress a memorandum of understanding.

Prompted by a lack of promotional materials for overseas marketing, HDC stepped into vacant space with its ‘Great Things Grow Here’ marketing initiative, including videos and a website: (www.greatthingsgrowhere.co.nz). Of course controversy ensued. Napier accused Hastings of going it alone, with Hastings responding that Napier had been invited to participate, and that the materials were designed to be co-branded and used by any Hawke’s Bay council or commercial organization.

The whole kerfuffle underscores once again how local government fragmentation undermines Hawke’s Bay progress in so many areas – economic development, tourism, environmental protection, even development of our creative and sport sectors. To say nothing of adding duplication and waste.

Coming back to amalgamation, the month of November should see release of a revised reorganisation proposal by the Local Government Commission.

One would expect the new proposal to take advantage of new legislation permitting more robust local boards to be created. Another possibility is expanding the number of councillors on the unitary authority, in response to concerns about numbers and representation during earlier public consultation.

With a final proposal soon to follow, advocate and opponents of amalgamation will take a deep breath over the holiday, and ready themselves for what promises to be an intense campaign over the first six months of the new year.

The next few months are also ‘do or die’ time for the Ruataniwha dam.

Appeals to the High Court regarding environmental issues affecting the dam will be heard in November. The Court’s decision (unless further appealed) would bring certainty to the environmental regulatory regime under which potential users of the dam’s irrigation water must operate. If the final regime is sufficiently conducive to the intensified land use on which the dam is predicated, then farmers might be more inclined to purchase water. If the Court sides with environmental groups who brought the appeals, the dam is effectively dead.

However, confident of the outcome it seeks in Court, HBRIC, the regional council’s holding company, is pressing ahead with efforts to secure firm water purchase agreements from CHB farmers. Purchase agreements for at least 40 million cubic metres of water annually (but perhaps 52 million in reality) must be in hand for the dam to be considered financially viable and for the project to proceed.

At its recent shareholders meeting, HBRIC said it had 12 million cubes “either signed up or at the point where it’s only a matter of signing the paperwork”, and another 23 million cubes “in the sales pipeline”. However, because HBRIC refuses to disclose actual signers of these 35-year contracts, and none have publicly laid their agreements on the table, HBRIC’s claims cannot be confirmed.

HBRIC has also proposed selling 2 million cubes of its water annually, at rates no less than what farmers would pay (and an additional 2 million annually in the future), to CHB’s District Council for drinking water. Currently that water is pumped directly from the river or groundwater. It’s not clear what CHB ratepayers think of this scheme. This follows an unsuccessful proposal to have CHBDC invest $5 million directly in the dam.

Currently, the Regional Council has given HBRIC until 30 March 2015 to meet all conditions upon which proceeding with the dam is contingent, although that ‘financial close’ date has been shifted a number of times.

Looking ahead on both amalgamation and the dam, the year-end, November and December, looks to be the calm before one hell of a political storm.

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