Council seat on a knife edge

By Sam Hurley

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Only 45 votes separate candidates Tom Belford (seated, left) and Kevin Rose (standing) for a Hawke's Bay Regional Council seat.
Only 45 votes separate candidates Tom Belford (seated, left) and Kevin Rose (standing) for a Hawke's Bay Regional Council seat.

Latest voting figures place candidate Tom Belford in pole position to complete a Grower Action Group clean sweep of Hawke's Bay Regional Council, reports Sam Hurley.

The race for a seat on the Hawke's Bay Regional Council has taken a late twist with only a few dozen votes separating two candidates and a claimed "culture change" within council hanging in the balance.

Incumbent Kevin Rose or challenger Tom Belford will be voted into Hawke's Bay Regional Council tomorrow as special votes continue to be counted, with preliminary results showing Mr Belford with a lead of 46 votes over Mr Rose.

On Saturday, Mr Rose held a slim majority of 16 votes.

Returning officer Carol Gilbertson said up to 100 special votes were yet to be counted and a final result would be declared tomorrow, but it was "unlikely the result will change from the special votes, with the votes probably spread across all the candidates".

Mr Belford's inclusion would mean all four candidates backed by lobby group Grower Action Group (GAG) had won seats on the regional council.

GAG spokesman Paul Paynter predicted there would be a "cultural change", with the council engaging better with community groups, after being "extremely detached" before.

"There has been a clear message sent from the community in these elections that they want decisions made in the best interests of the community," he said.

"I think if Tom gets in it will change the balance for sure.

"Tom's very passionate about a number of issues and is a protagonist."

Mr Paynter said it would be "immensely satisfying" if Mr Belford was elected, alongside Peter Beaven, Richard Barker, and Rex Graham.

GAG wanted to replace Hawke's Bay regional councillors following the council's firm stance against Twyford irrigation during last summer's drought and the group led a tractor rally last month, seeking to replace sitting Hawke's Bay Regional Council members.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson said if Mr Belford was elected he would have his chance to have an impact like everyone else.

"If Tom gets in, it will mean all the GAG guys have got in. I'm quite excited about that, there is a lot of mental horsepower there, including Tom, and it will bring a lot of new ideas and new debates."

Mr Belford's inclusion would mean a strong voice for Transparent Hawke's Bay and an opportunity for him to lobby on issues around the Ruataniwha Dam from inside the regional council.

He was campaigning for the regional council to be more publicly open around planning and details of the Ruataniwha Dam, part of the Tukituki Catchment Proposal.

Mr Rose said "it's not looking good" and he would find it difficult to pull through and win on the special vote count.

"We will wait and see what the final tally is, but it has been a tremendous privilege to represent the people of Hastings for 15 years, five terms. I have greatly enjoyed it and have secured a number of achievements."

Mr Belford could not be reached for comment last night, but posted about the tight race on his blog, saying: "It would appear that Kevin Rose and I 'twist in the wind' a while longer! The outcome is still wide open. It ain't over till the fat lady sings."

Meanwhile, a similar situation has emerged on the Napier City Council, with Napier election rookies Mark Hamilton and Mere Nepia unlikely to know before tomorrow which of them will become the 12th member of the city council to be headed by new Mayor Bill Dalton.

Latest figures, released on Sunday, construction company executive Mark Hamilton holds a 28-vote advantage over suburban gaming centre proprietor Ms Nepia in their quest for the second of two Nelson Park Ward seats. Mr Hamilton was credited with 1047 votes, and Ms Nepia 1019.

While looking better for Mr Hamilton after first results on Saturday had him just two votes ahead, he was last night still not "counting my chickens", although he had already been "summoned" to an interview with Mr Dalton, as have others on the new council.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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