Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst

In a recent interview with Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, I asked about her top three priorities for the year. There was no surprise about #1: cyclone recovery and infrastructure repair, as in roads and bridges.

Re-establishing full connectivity between families and their communities and between food producers and their markets, processors and the Port is job number one. “That access,” she says, is critically important to the region’s economy and keeping out people employed.” 

With $223 million from the Crown earmarked for roads, bridges, culverts and $80 million spent already on recovery, she says HDC has 65 crews out around the district making these repairs. They’ll remain busy!

The roading/bridge repairs yet needed in the Hastings District are estimated at $800 million. The Hastings District Council has just put out four tenders each encompassing $100 million worth of work.

“I’m the self-appointed Infrastructure Queen,” says Sandra.

Next comes “homes for our people”. HDC has done a stellar job creating affordable housing over the last four years – 414 built with 208 under construction and 509 in the consenting process, as BayBuzz has reported more extensively here. More housing on council-owned land is next to be pursued.

The mayor is concerned that while more housing is great, the new residents in these houses need to be socially integrated into the communities and neighbourhoods around them and supported in what for many is their first life-changing experience with long-term housing. “Not just housing, but community building … giving people a sense of belonging.”

Hazlehurst acknowledges that more needs to be done to ensure that housing isn’t built with out robust consideration of other needs impacted – schools, recreation facilities, food stores, availability of health care, etc – not all of which are in the control of local councils. “It’s not just about housing, it’s about communities, and communities need to be serviced,” she says, pointing to the need for better engagement with central government around these issues.

Third on her list is the economic wellbeing of Hastings CBD, including a second hotel. This is not just a matter of attractive businesses and streetscape amenities, but more fundamentally a vibrant urban population living in high density CBD housing and industrial land for expansion. Zoning changes will be required and Plan Change 5 will be brought forward this year to accomplish this.

Given she’s such a staunch advocate of Hastings, I asked the mayor about her commitment to regional spatial planning. Absolutely needed she confirms, pointing to a Hastings/Napier joint plan – a Future Development Strategy – now in development. As our other mayors have insisted in these BayBuzz interviews, there seems to be uniform political commitment to a regional spatial plan for Hawke’s Bay, whether or not such is required by a new Resource Management Act. “There’s absolutely a will to do this,” she says.

Our conversation moved on to the elephant in the room – council funding, both HDC in particular and local government in general.

Post-cyclone, HDC’s planned rate increase of 5.7% for 2023/24 jumped to 8.7%, driven of course by recovery needs, but also economy-wide interest rate and material cost increases. Increased external debt funding has pushed HDC debt from $276 million anticipated for 2023/24 in the current LTP to a projected $375 million at the end of this fiscal year. All of that debt, she notes, is dedicated to infrastructure, “our core business”.

Mayor Hazlehurst wouldn’t be drawn into a precise prediction about the level of rate increase for 2024/25 – this won’t be floated until March. Council staff is working now on projecting how much recovery work can be delivered over what period. “We know there will be a significant rate rise”, and “The rate increase will be driven by our recovery needs.”

Like her elected colleagues, the mayor has watchful eyes on the Government. She is very praiseworthy of the role the HB Regional Recovery Agency has played to date in making Hawke’s Bay’s needs effectively known to the PM and other relevant ministers. “They’ve done a fantastic job.” She foresees a permanent priority sorting, coordinating role for the Agency beyond recovery.

Looking forward, Hazlehurst is “excited” that the Government might move toward some sort of ‘Regional Deal’ approach – 30 year funding plans covering the full range of Government support to local/regional authorities, providing both dependable long-term funding levels and with substantial local discretion about how programmes are planned and implemented.

She believes Hawke’s Bay has an excellent prospect of being a ‘first cab off the ranks’ for such a Deal, in part due to the regional advocacy around ‘3 Waters’, in part to the effectiveness of the Regional Recovery Agency, and in part to the steady work of the HB Mayors Forum in recent times, forming and ensuring various planning and project collaborations. What BayBuzz likes to term ‘amalgamation by stealth’.

Even if the ‘Regional Deal’ she conjures becomes a reality, it’s hard to imagine such a profound shift in the central/local government funding paradigm happening quickly – significant local rates increases are locked into our future. And even the ‘bits and pieces’ Government might normally award us locals can’t really become clear until the Government completes its own budget machinations in May.

Mayor Hazlehurst expressed personal concern that the region’s community and arts organisations – perceived as outside ‘core business’ – will suffer from tighter budgets across all councils. She believes HB’s private sector and philanthropic players should be pressed to step up their support to these organisations, indicating this will be one of her missions … “On my ‘to do’ list for this year. Our councils can’t deliver everything.”

Moving on to some of the BAU issues sitting around the Hastings District …

Flaxmere New World closing – Mayor Hazlehurst says discussions are underway with a Tauranga-based supermarket chain regarding a possible opening in Flaxmere, with 11,000 residents today and another 800 homes in the next 3-8 years.

Havelock North streams/dams – HDC past management of these assets has been sharply criticised, with a voluminous paper trail indicating sustained neglect. 

Says the mayor, “The arrangement between councils (HDC and HBRC) wasn’t clear … We didn’t understand the vulnerability of those streams and whether the maintenance was carried out well enough, and I accept that, and that’s what’s going to change now … Now we are in charge, we are accountable and we have a team on it that I trust.” 

She touts a new strategy taking shape, that needs to take into account 650 property owners with differing views, access issues and so forth. “First and foremost we’ve got to get the maintenance regime sorted out.” This work is supported by $10 million funding from Government.

Waimarama Beach vehicle access – based on some 500 informal submissions made to Council, options and next steps are coming to the Council at the end of February, with a full public consultation to follow. “The challenge is enforcing any restrictions.”

By-election – with Heretaunga Ward Councillor Ann Redstone resigning for health reasons and Takitimu Māori Ward Councillor Renata Nepe resigning because of employment responsibilities, HDC will be conducting a by-election in the May 2-24 window (if either seat is contested). Nominations open on 29 February and close at noon on 28 March.


Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *