Group urges public to have say

By Doug Laing

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A Napier city councillor and a former deputy mayor have joined forces with a founding member of a pro-amalgamation lobby group to urge people to have a say on the future of local government.

Hawke's Bay Democratic Association has been formed by Bill Dalton, Ian Dick and Peter Twigg and at least 10 others, and was launched by the trio at a media conference in Napier yesterday.

It is effectively a counter-lobby to A Better Hawke's Bay, of which Mr Twigg was a foundation signatory 15 months ago and which on Wednesday released details of its proposal for a merger of the Napier City and Hastings District councils.

But the new association, to be known "affectionately" as Hawke's Bay Dedicated and Democratic (DAD HB), with Mr Dick as chairman, stresses it is not "anti-amalgamation," and both groups say they will work together.

Mr Dalton drew parallels with the two organisations, and said he could not see anything in DAD HB's plans which would "exclude" anyone from ABHB from being involved, while ABHB spokeswoman Rebecca Turner later said her group "will" work with DAD HB and any other interested party to ensure every voter has a say.

Mr Dick, deputy mayor of Napier for the last six years of four council terms which started amid local reorganisation which included a Hastings City-Hawke's Bay County merger in 1989, says the target of the DAD HB campaign is the implication of rights removed from voters in changes to the Local Government Act.

"Until the act was passed in November, communities had the statutory right to vote on any proposal for local government reorganisation," the DAD HB statement says.

A proposal for a Napier-Hastings in the mid 1990s needed majority votes separately in the two electorates. With Napier in opposition, and Hastings in support, the proposal was ditched.

DAD HB says a right to another vote has been "removed" by changes which now require a petition of 10 per cent of eligible voters to force a poll on any proposal presented by the Local Government Commission.

Without a referendum, a proposal could be implemented without any voting input from the people.

"DAD HB will be ready to mount a petition to force such a poll if and when any reorganisation proposal is announced," Mr Dick says.

"We hope that supporters of amalgamation will also be supporters of the basic democratic right to vote on the future of local government in the region.

"People will accept change if they have had a say.

"They will accept democratically reached decisions."

The group fears an imposed outcome will bring long-lasting divisiveness and resentments, which would be destructive to the notion of a better Hawke's Bay "that everybody wants".

Once a proposal is released by the commission, DAD HB will consider submitting alternatives if it believes it is in the better interests of the region.

Mr Dick says: "At present, our focus is on alerting the community to the new, undemocratic aspects of the act and gathering support for a return to democracy."

Mr Dalton, often tipped as a potential mayoral candidate if current Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott does not seek re-election at the local body elections in October this year, was non-committal about his own future in local government.

But he said he does not think full amalgamation "is the answer", with evidence of the failure of other amalgamations to achieve claimed cost savings. In fact they had cost even more to operate.

He said that already there are "over 30 areas" sharing services between the current councils.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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