With the amalgamation debate now a distant memory, how will Hawke's Bay move forward after October's local body elections? Sophie Price talks to the region's leaders about what their vision is for the Bay, the challenges we face and how these will be addressed.

Working together to capitalise on the Bay's booming economy is how the region's leaders envision the future of Hawke's Bay.

With amalgamation in the past and the local body election less than six months away, the region's leaders say the province could not be in a better place.

"I think the Bay is in a very exciting place," said Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule.


"Clearly people don't want amalgamation but they do expect us to work together."

Central Hawke's Bay mayor Peter Butler simply said he wanted the region to move forward.

His Napier counterpart Bill Dalton agreed, saying "onwards and upwards".

He said Hawke's Bay had everything going for it at the moment - tourist numbers were booming, exports were on the up and the region's wines were becoming more world-class by the day.

"The stars are starting to align and the Hawke's Bay economy is really on a roll," said Mr Dalton.

This is something that the Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson said we needed to capitalise on.

"All of us need to get behind the growth that we are seeing at the moment," he said.
Offering up the examples of the pipfruit industry's growth and the region's strong beef market, Mr Wilson said primary production was something all councils could get behind.

Craig Little, mayor of Wairoa - the region's smallest district - said for the Bay to move forward it was all about working with neighbours. "I think the Bay has demonstrated in the last week or so that we can work together around Rocket Lab [in Wairoa]."

He said he was impressed by the support the region's leaders gave to this project.
"Hawke's Bay is a region, so we have to as a region really unite."

Mr Yule said this could perhaps be best articulated through the next triennial agreement, which comes up at this election.

Through the agreement, the region's local authorities are encouraged to work together to promote the well-being of their communities - socially, economically, environmentally and culturally.

"I think there is an opportunity there to lay that down now that amalgamation is behind us," Mr Yule said.

"How we might all work together and how we might articulate and advocate on behalf of the region."

Although the great amalgamation debate was behind them, Mr Wilson said while the issue was divisive at the time the community gave a clear signal of what success looked like by using the current style of government.

"It is really not an issue now going forward, and people were pretty vocal in what they supported or otherwise," he said.

He said he did not believe the issue would feature during the next election or on the subsequent regional council.

Mr Dalton said that if anything, the issue had created a desire for the councils to work together.

This was something Mr Little did not agree with, saying the debate had done a lot of damage with every decision made in Wairoa having to be justified to the pro-amalgamation group.

"I'm amazed we have achieved the few things that we have because of that," he said.
The debate did put councils in a defensive position, Mr Yule said, but now that the people had made a decision, the local authorities needed to get on and work in that environment.

"We have got to maximise the opportunities under that structure, both in terms of opportunities for the region and also to try and make sure we are as efficient as we can be with ratepayers' dollars," he said.

Not one to hold grudges, Mr Butler likened the amalgamation debate to a game of rugby.
"You go in there and fight like hell, and you use all the dirty underhanded tricks that you can, but you come out and you shake hands and you have a beer afterwards," he said.

While individual councils should work together, each district is unique with their leaders voicing what they contribute to the region.

If the Rocket Lab in Wairoa and the Ruataniwha Dam in Central Hawke's Bay get off the ground, they will each contribute much to Hawke's Bay, not only to the region's economy but they will also bring in better jobs to the region.

"These are the good stories that we should be putting on the front page of the paper," Mr Butler said.

Mr Dalton said the best thing Napier could do for Hawke's Bay was to be a strong, prosperous and vibrant city.

"And that is exactly what we are getting on with the job of doing," he said.
Mr Yule said Hastings was undoubtedly the economic engine-room of the region.
"What we grow is driving [the Bay's] economy," he said.

He said the district was very well-positioned and was showing economic and population growth above the rest of the region, and had been for some time.

"It is not to take away from anything else - every area has its distinct advantage," he said.

Mr Yule said these advantages included the Ruataniwha Dam and the Rocket Lab,and Napier as the region's tourism mecca.

"But Hastings has a fundamental driver economically of basically around what we grow. That's what I think Hastings will always offer," he said.