One of the more enduring rumours of the local government amalgamation debate has been effectively kicked for touch by confirmation that Hawke's Bay District Health Board chairman Kevin Atkinson will seek to retain his place on the board in the local elections this year.
Mr Atkinson, who in 2010 received the Queen's Birthday honour of MNZM for services to business and the community, has been nominated by twin-city mayors Bill Dalton and Lawrence Yule for what he expects will be one last term on a board he has chaired for 13 years.
During the amalgamation debate, Mr Atkinson had indicated his willingness to head a transitional council if amalgamation had gone ahead and he was wanted for the job.
It sparked rumours that with that option gone he might seek the mayoralty in Hastings, but he said last night he still supported incumbent Mr Yule, and in any event he already had two of the biggest leadership roles in Hawke's Bay, as chairman of the health board and of electricity supply company Unison.
Mr Atkinson, who has served 16 years on the DHB, including 13 as ministerial appointment to the chair, said the decision to stand again was based on huge support from the community.
Under his chairmanship the board has become one of the best-performing DHBs in the country, possibly "the best", a position which could be confirmed next week with expectations of financial performance results "even better than what we budgeted for".
He said: "This has put us in a good position to consider major infrastructure improvements including an eighth operating theatre and an endoscopy suite, which follows the completion of a new dialysis centre, Wairoa's Health Centre, a new primary birthing unit and a new mental health in-patient facility.
"Hawke's Bay continues to face important health challenges, especially with our aging population," he said.
"We need to do more to improve Maori health outcomes and equity because the benefits will flow through our entire region.
"My focus will be on ensuring the DHB continues to improve its performance against the Government's health targets and that the DHB is delivering value for money and eliminates unnecessary bureaucracy.
"Waiting lists are one of the region's main concerns and I want to continue with the significant progress the DHB has made over recent years in increasing the number of people receiving elective operations.
"It is also important that we continue to keep our waiting lists within the four-month government guideline."
In a new term, he said he would hope to see the development of strategy which would one day see the replacement of Hawke's Bay Regional Hospital's tower block, which could cost $100 million.
"And then there's the car parking issue at the hospital," he said. "We're trying a few things now with the Go Well Travel Plan, we're trying to reduce the number of vehicles coming to the hospital, we will test them, but if they don't work we'll have to try something else."
Having sold his IMS Payroll business this year, Mr Atkinson said he had even more time to focus on improving the health of Hawke's Bay, and said: "I am excited and looking forward to being part of the 2016 election process."
Less exciting are the imminent events on the sporting front, in which he continues as a director of the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union.
"I've got tickets to the Hurricanes games, but I haven't got time to use them," he said as he sat down last night to watch the Highlanders instead - on TV.