Candidate reveals his plan

By Victoria White Victoria white@hbtoday co nz

13 comments
RETURN: Neil Kirton has announced he is standing for the Napier constituency.PHOTO/FILE
RETURN: Neil Kirton has announced he is standing for the Napier constituency.PHOTO/FILE

Alternative funding for the Port of Napier, protection of the region's coastal marine environment, and a "top to bottom" review of council activities are among the undertakings Neil Kirton says he will pursue if elected to Hawke's Bay Regional Council.

After leaving the council in 2013 following four terms, Mr Kirton said he was standing again as there were a number of issues the current council were not dealing with appropriately.

"The council needs to come together with a common vision to work for the ratepayers of the region," he said, adding some councillors seemed to be working toward their own agenda.

In standing again, the former MP said he would actively pursue alternative funding for the Port of Napier.

He said as the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) did not have enough income to pay the council while the dam and on-farm infrastructure was built, it had been decided council operations would be funded by demanding a dividend of $3.6 million from the port, and through additional borrowing.

To substitute this dividend he proposed a five-year "Port of Napier Development Bond" with a public offering made to Hawke's Bay ratepayers, as well as savings found through changes to council operations.

"We must not compromise the region's most precious asset," he said.

"The council's move in treating the port as a cash cow is extremely short-sighted and could badly impact on future growth."

The Ruataniwha Dam's funding regime also required HBRIC to borrow sums ranging from $25 million to $71 million.

"This is over and above the $80 million of capital investment committed to the project," he said, "this level of debt needs to be considered in the light of other council requirements and the impact on the Port of Napier's future."

When asked about his view on the dam, Mr Kirton said: "In principle I am a very strong supporter of water storage and the dam represented that opportunity for a major project, in principle I am very supportive of the concept." However, as he had not seen any business cases on the scheme since leaving council, he said this would be needed before any substantial resources were committed to it.

Mr Kirton said he also had concerns about the debt, borrowing, and funding around the scheme.

A lack of transparency, and the division which had appeared at council with the HBRIC structure had been "somewhat instrumental" in his decision to stand.

"I think all regional councillors need to be on HBRIC, and on the same page."

If elected, Mr Kirton said he would also advocate for a "top to bottom review of council activities", including making the council staff's "100k club" more exclusive.

The number of staff salaries at this level was not sustainable in the face of the looming cash-flow and debt problems.

"I believe that the 100k club should be reduced down to 20 staff.

This would free up over $1million that could be used to reduce the ports special dividend."

He also said it was time for the council to do less thinking and planning, and more environmental protection work.

"My proposal is to increase riparian planting 10-fold to 500,000 plants annually, in order to protect our waterways," he said. Mr Kirton said during his last term on council, until 2013, it was a "real buzz" to see the establishment of a regional biodiversity strategy.

If elected, he wanted to ensure a focus was on protecting the coastal marine environment.

"Involvement in the 'Put More Fish in the Bay' campaign has opened my eyes to the urgency in looking after our coast and sea habitat."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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