Seven candidates are running in the upcoming Hastings District Council Hastings-Havelock North ward byelection. Hawke's Bay Today is profiling each candidate, and today asks Rion Roben why he is standing.

Hastings resident Rion Roben says he was prompted to stand for council in the Hastings/Havelock North ward after reading the Stage 1 report from the Havelock North water inquiry, his interest piqued by the issues raised in it.

"It was scathing, it used language like 'woefully inadequate' and 'lack of due diligence' and I wondered how could it get to this level?"

Born in Hawke's Bay, Mr Roben moved to Auckland with his family as a child, before returning to live in Hastings three years ago with his wife and two young children, in search of a more balanced lifestyle.


The 38-year-old said he was working as a load-out controller for Progressive Meats, dealing in exports.

His career has been based around strategic and financial planning for some of the country's largest food manufacturing and construction businesses, and always a politically-minded person, he believed the skills he had developed could translate well to local body governance.

The three big issues he wanted to address were water, housing and the implications of increasing automation on business and the local economy, he said.

As well as water management, which came under the spotlight with the Havelock North water crisis, he said access, rights and irrigation issues were also significant.

Incentivising irrigation efficiency was a particular focus.

"We need to have an open dialogue and invest in a long-term solution to incentivise irrigation efficiency rather than just opening up the tap more."

In terms of housing, with his background in construction he saw potential for the council to work with industry to lobby the Government for promised funding for housing development.

"We could be working together to apply for some of that money to help to unlock the land and get services in for development.

"We need private sector involvement in that to come up with a strategy that helps spread the risk among the different players."

The other issue that was becoming increasingly vital to get to grips with was the trend towards using automation and robotics in place of low-skilled labour, he said.

"As part of my job I speak to businesses about this - for example, slaughterhouses are replacing low-skilled roles with robots - it's not so much about cost or efficiency, it's about reliability."

What was missing in the equation, he said, was a skilled workforce to install and service such technology, and council could have a role to play in facilitating training to fill this gap.

"Learning institutions are not working hand in hand with industry to provide courses with the skills needed in the workforce.

"The council can help the wider community to be prepared for these changes such as asking business people what they need, then going to learning institutions and facilitate the hand-holding that's needed."

Mr Roben said he was prepared to leave his job to work full time on council if elected.