The amalgamation debate looks certain to continue into 2015 after the Local Government Commission said yesterday it will not issue an amended proposal on merging Hawke's Bay's five councils until after the general election.
The commission has been consulting over its proposal to create a single local authority for the region and said yesterday it was "seeking further discussions with stakeholders" which could continue into August.
The region is split over whether amalgamation would be a positive or negative move for Hawke's Bay and the issue is likely to be decided by a binding poll of residents, which now looks unlikely to happen before next year.
In submissions to the commission's draft proposal, released in November last year, a number of amalgamation supporters requested changes to the structure put forward by the commission, including a doubling of the number of councillors on the planned super council from nine to 18.
Once the commission completes its consultation it has the option of withdrawing the amalgamation plan, issuing an amended draft proposal or moving to a final proposal, which could trigger a request for a poll.
Observers believe that of the three options, the commission will most likely issue a final proposal, which could then be challenged, triggering a poll.
The commission said yesterday it would not issue draft or final proposals until after the election because it "wishes to minimise the risk of voter confusion if the general election and a local government reorganisation poll were conducted in close proximity to each other".
It is understood the release of the final proposal could be further delayed until after legislation amending the Local Government Act is passed, which is unlikely before the election.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, an amalgamation supporter, said given it was a "huge issue" for the region, a delay of a few months was not significant.
"I think everybody just wants to get on and get to the referendum point and have a decision one way or the other, so from that perspective it's a frustration."
Labour Party Napier candidate and anti-amalgamation campaigner Stuart Nash said it was "ridiculous" how long the process was taking.
"My billboards are going to be up for quite a while longer, I suspect," he said.
"The people of Hawke's Bay need a level of certainty. Let's get this thing sorted."
Napier Mayor Bill Dalton, who opposes amalgamation, said he was also frustrated.
"At the end of the day the amalgamation debate is doing Hawke's Bay no good at all. The sooner we can put this debate behind us and everyone in Hawke's Bay get on and pull on the same end of the rope the better it will be for Hawke's Bay."
But amalgamation supporter and National party candidate for Napier Wayne Walford welcomed news that the amalgamation poll would not be held until well after the election.
"This makes it clear that amalgamation is not a general election issue," he said.
"Hawke's Bay voters will have two votes - one for New Zealand's government in September and one in 2015 regarding amalgamation."
The commission said its further discussions with stakeholders included talking to hapu and iwi interests, the regional council and neighbouring territorial authorities in Taupo and Rangitikei.
"These include further inquiries in relation to representation arrangements for Maori, as well as the boundaries for water catchment management and communities of interest," it said.
"The water catchment issues affect landowners in territorial authorities which currently lie both inside and outside Hawke's Bay region."