I'm back, refreshed and focused. They say a change is as good as a holiday and I've managed to have both over the past couple of months, so am feeling grateful.
The first bit of gratitude is for being re-elected unopposed onto Horizons. With only two of us standing for the two Whanganui positions on Horizons, David Cotton and I, both incumbents, got in without anyone having the option to vote (or not) for us.
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It's a rare gift to get the opportunity to serve the public and the environment without having to run a campaign and face the inevitable anxiety leading up to the results. I appreciate these circumstances, whether it means people think we're doing a good job, are pragmatic about the chances of successfully competing against us, or simply not interested enough to put themselves forward.
Whatever way, I'm excited about the next three years on Horizons because we have a new chair, my friend Rachel Keedwell, who will do an amazing job. Plus we have six new council members – it's a refreshed council too. For me, it feels like an opportunity to lift our sights and be bolder about our vision for the future and braver about the challenges we face.
My experience of the past three years around the council table has been mixed. It certainly had a bumpy start when I didn't sit there quietly as expected or even as directed by a couple of members. I didn't always feel welcome.
I've felt disappointed at not being able to get deeper engagement on addressing water-quality challenges, particularly in our local catchments of Ototoka, Kai Iwi and Mowhanau. I also felt frustrated by our lack of leadership on climate change, which has only started gaining traction this year.
A priority that's grown on me in the past three years has been public transport, in particular our buses. We had nearly a doubling of people using buses when Horizons offered a week of free transport recently. We need to do more, take risks and be innovative in attracting people back to this easy way to get around.
I'm also grateful to newish Whanganui resident, musician and public transport aficionado Anthonie Tonnon, who's been sharing his research with me into public transport success in other places, as well as Whanganui's significant history with late night trams and more. We need to reverse our slowly declining bus use and find a way to make it work for people's lives today.
The other transport concern I have is SH4 with the Parapara being closed. I usually drive that road four times a fortnight and I'm not yet sure whether my new route will be Fields Track or SH1 and detour completely. Either way, Raetihi will no longer be a regular stop on my journeys north.
I'm worried for Raetihi and, to a lesser extent, Whanganui. This closure has the potential to have a massive effect. However, I also know out of adversity comes opportunity and locals will be working on a plan or two to turn this around.
I'm planning to do my bit to help our neighbours, starting with taking my boys up to visit the new dinosaur museum and doing a bit of Christmas shopping at the new Volcano Vibe arts collective, both in Raetihi. I want to finally get to the award-winning "burgeria" in Ohakune, The Blind Finch. But I might have to stay overnight to fit in bush walks on the mountain and a breakfast bagel at my fave cafe, Eat, too.
On a more serious note, I've been waiting for some tough questions to be asked about this massive land slip. There are so many areas of erosion-prone land along the Parapara. A few poplar poles planted on already scarred slopes is too little, too late. We need to have a challenging conversation around land use, especially when the economic consequences are weighed up, let alone the environmental ones.
We put substantial rates, taxes and private funds into preventing erosion, but it all seems insignificant when you look at the scale of impact from this single incident. So much soil is now in the river, or on its way in, instead of on the hillside where it belongs. It's time to dig a little deeper into our collective responsibilities for the environment.
• Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council and leads a new social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mum of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member.