Desperate times require desperate measures, and given the unrelenting attacks by regional council chairman Fenton Wilson on councillor and critic Tom Belford, the Ruataniwha water storage scheme (RWSS) must be in dire straits.

Indeed, someone amongst the previously-solid-majority "for" cabal must be wavering, else why would Wilson bother trying to disqualify Belford or shame him into not voting?

It's the only thing that makes sense.

Surely Wilson doesn't enjoy the PR-fail of playing the bully.


But it's a pot-and-kettle stoush, because if Belford should step aside because of his association with Transparent Hawke's Bay, then Wilson should do likewise due to his long-term association with Federated Farmers.

Both groups submitted on the dam-and-irrigation proposal: One mostly for, one mostly against. Should that tar either man with the notion their views are preconceived come vote time? No.

However let's examine Wilson's record. Almost his first act on becoming chairman four years ago was to back the scheme, and he's been backing it regardless of any objection or obstacle ever since.

Now, on one hand that's fair enough; as chairman of the body proposing it, he's expected to be its champion. But given his faith and confidence that it will proceed - views he has espoused countless times - can anyone doubt his continuing support? No.

Equals a "preconceived" decision, surely.

To be fair, you might apply the same logic to Belford's criticisms, although I'd argue he's played the open-minded card better than Wilson.

Indeed, you could lump every HBRC member into one camp or the other - since they have all been vocal, and voted, for or against - and contend that by this stage they all have preconceived notions.

But so what?


When you elect someone, you do so expecting them to perform in public office in line with the predilections they have always held, and campaigned on; you don't expect them to change their world-view overnight.

If you elect a pro-development businessman you can expect he'll push any development he thinks is good for business. If you elect a pro-environment people's champion you can expect he'll come down on the side of the environment and the common good.

This is reality. Nothing sinister about it.

Admittedly local government has more give in it than Parliament, and individuals often do find themselves with sufficient grace to be persuaded, for whatever reason, to adopt an otherwise anomalous stance.

Which, reading between the lines, is what's happening with the RWSS. That shouldn't surprise, since the price keeps going up, the consent conditions set by the Board of Inquiry will be difficult to satisfy, and the commitment by qualifying landowners to use the scheme's water is seriously lagging behind target.

Given HBRIC are now, because of a lack of headline investors, trying to flog this at-least $270 million scheme off to whoever has a spare $50,000, I'd say it's in deep doo-doo.

Would you hesitate to plunge $80 million (really $100 million with associated costs added) of ratepayers' money into this dog? I would.

And I suspect some regional councillors will, too.

Not the good ole boys in Peter Butler's CHBDC territory, though. They're happy to fork over $5 million of their citizens' cash without blinking, while joining the "gag Belford" movement at the same time.

This is where the rules around open-mindedness get really twisted.

Surely the point of legislating against "preconception" is to promote open democracy at the expense of vested interest. Yet here we have a council, some of whose members could benefit from this scheme going ahead, using public money at whim to back it.

Isn't that what the law is supposed to protect us from?

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.