Hastings council merger: People will get a say

By Lawrence Gullery

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A public forum could be among the initiatives to generate feedback on whether Hastings people support merging the region's councils.

The Local Government Commission, which was responsible for reorganising councils, wanted to understand Hastings District Council's views on amalgamation.

The commission also wanted to hear what ratepayers thought was the best way for local government to run heading into the future.

The topic was raised at the council's meeting yesterday, where it formerly received A Better Hawke's Bay's proposal to merge five of the six councils in the region.

The council's chief executive Ross McLeod said he had a chance to speak to the commission when it was in Hastings last week, considering a plan to reduce councillor numbers and introduce community boards for the Hastings council.

"It has been evident to me, moving around the district and wider Hawke's Bay that there is a ground swell of interest in having the discussion on reorganisation.

Mr McLeod said the council could write to the commission outlining there was "significant support" for amalgamation options to be discussed publicly.

"It would be for a formal discussion on the topic rather than showing support for this (A Better Hawke's Bay plan)."

Some councillors said the amalgamation topic was an issue they were constantly quizzed on by ratepayers.

Hastings deputy mayor Cynthia Bowers said she supported writing to the commission to show the council's interest in reorganisation.

"I agree this is an emotive process but I have been watching Hawke's Bay slowly going down the gurgler and not achieving anything, knowing things could be done to improve our region nationally and internationally.

"We could quash this today and let it wither away but I think we need to support it, let the commission and the public become further involved. That is the leadership role we are here to play."

What do councillors think?

Hastings district councillors put their views forward on whether the council should generate more public debate on the pros and cons of amalgamation, as discussed at the council meeting on Wednesday.

Lawrence Yule: "There will be a poll on this, all we need is 10 per cent to sign a petition, then we will force a poll. We owe it to everyone to adopt a proves which allows us and the public to explore all the options."

Kevin Watkins: "There is quite a divergence of comment in the community but generally everyone wants the decisions and the questions put up for discussion. If this is a way forward, I support it."

Rod Heaps: "There are a lot more issues that need to be put before the public, so the public can be more informed and make a better decision when the time comes around (for poll vote)."

Simon Nixon: "I think it's important we get the emotion out of this and start getting down to the facts, something that will lead to better examination of the issue."

Sandra Hazelhurst: "I support going to the commission to signal our interest (in reorganization). I am asked on a daily basis what's happening and where to form here on this issue. The submission from A Better Hawke's Bay is a starting point."

Wayne Bradshaw: "There are too many unanswered questions in the A Better Hawke's Bay plan. We don't know what wards there will be, there is some mention of community boards but will largely be left up to the commission to decide."

Mick Lester: "I have people at me all the time asking when we are going to take the next step to give the options for a new structure. I have full confidence in the commission that they will deliver the right structure, as they have in the case of Tasman and Nelson councils."

Scott Henderson: "I understand the stage 2 of the Winder report (regional prosperity) is due in three of four weeks time and could explain a number of concerns people have (on amalgamation)."

Jacoby Poulain: "We need to ensure there is distinction between having a general forum on this issue compared to showing support for the actual content for the A Better Hawke's Bay Proposal."

Henare O'Keefe: "This is an emotive topic and going to have a huge impact on peoples' lives. I am all for better services and better production but very few people have come up and mandated me to push for this (amalgamation)."

Tania Kerr: "In my discussion with many rural people, the one thing they all seem to come across is that we have a (council) system which can be vastly improved."

Lawrence Yule: "This is an emotive process, more so that the debate on fluoride or GE Free. We owe it to the community to adopt a process to look at the options."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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