Fierce debate over Bay unitary authority

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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While a Bubbles and Bites celebrity debate on council amalgamation might sound like an evening of frivolity, in Wairoa polls show the majority see the issue as a David and Goliath battle.

Wairoa mayoral candidate Derek Fox pulled out of last night's debate in Wairoa, saying he could only argue a moot he did not support if it was to be "an evening of fun".

"They are deadly serious," he said.

Central Hawke's Bay councillor Terry Story attended the debate "to see if we can use this format in CHB".

Overseeing the sold-out Gaiety Theatre event was teacher, Hawke's Bay Today columnist and musician Wyn Drabble, who in the end conducted a "clapometer" with the negative team the winner.

A Better Hawke's Bay chairwoman Rebecca Turner opened for the affirmative team on the moot: Is a unitary authority for Hawke's Bay the best thing for Wairoa's future?

She said change was necessary for Wairoa to "survive in a competitive world" and called her opposition a team of political "wannabes".

Wairoa district councillor and mayoral candidate Craig Little replied with emotion. "We don't want you to rip the heart out of our community and take away our ability for self determination," he said. "We are doing okay, we don't need you. We have money in the bank and everything gets done properly."

Wairoa businessman Chris Joblin said amalgamation was inevitable under the present system and he questioned the council's finances.

The arguments against amalgamation were based on "scaremongering, supposition and conspiracy theory".

"It is simply a question of when - not if - we reach tipping point," he said.

Napier City Councillor and Napier mayoral candidate Bill Dalton said because of urban sprawl, amalgamation was appropriate for places like Auckland, not for a district as distinctive as Wairoa.

Amalgamation had not met its projected savings and Auckland households were burdened with "super-sized costs".

"One unitary authority for Hawke's bay would destroy Wairoa," he said.

Publisher and last-minute replacement for Derek Fox, Tom Belford, was not impressed with the "half baked" aspirations of the anti-amalgamation team and set his sights on Mr Dalton.

"Who needs fracking when you have Bill Dalton releasing all that gas?" he said.

Major goals like sealing the road to Lake Waikaremoana needed a bigger organisation.

"You can't do that by yourself."

Through audience heckling he continued saying Wairoa could not do it alone.

"The numbers are real and that's what you have to contend with."

Labour spokesman for the Napier electorate Stuart Nash roused the crowd with pro-Wairoa anecdotes.

A cheer was raised when he said that the pro-amalgamation team telling Wairoa what it needs was "arrogance personified".

Centralisation would "further disenfranchise the community".

"At the moment you have a really good passionate group of people who have Wairoa's best interests at heart and represent you 100 per cent and that is what Wairoa needs."

In describing the process towards amalgamation, Rebecca Turner made a poor choice of metaphor for a district with a mothballed railway.

"The train has left the station," she said.

"I think I have heard an argument derailed," Mr Drabble said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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