We're about to go public with the regional council's plan to "face our future" over the next 10 years.

To be up front, Facing Our Future is a big challenge and we are going to need to be bold in our resolve. On the face of it, we've got a region that's doing well, that's productive, has a great climate and a range of seemingly abundant resources.

But you don't have to scratch much below the surface to discover that things aren't as "rosy" as they seem and there is a lot of work to do.

Aside from being a great place to live – and it is – we also see unsustainable practices on our land and in our towns; inefficient water use; underperforming storm and wastewater systems; streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries polluted by silt and nutrients; and problems amplified by climate change. This is the alternative reality that we need to face and if we are to be successful in the future, our whole community has to pull together.

We need to face up to these challenges and take action now, not in five or 10 years' time. So we propose starting this year. We want the regional council to work at a bigger scale and at a faster pace to fix the issues in our environment.


We need to scale up our work in the area of land and water management and biodiversity. Our proposal to do this includes a mix of incentives, partnerships and stronger regulation. To see major change across our region in the next 10 years, we need a step-change of activity. We plan to put more people on the ground not just at our head office, but also more dedicated staff in Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay.

We've got work to do with farm plans, riparian planting and getting more trees on the landscape. It is our intention to do this jointly with tangata whenua through the Kahutia Accord along with Forest & Bird, marae and other community-driven action groups.

We also want to launch a future farming initiative and realise our planned actions for biodiversity and biosecurity. We'll back this up with stronger regulation across our consent and compliance teams.

We also want to increase our activity to make homes more sustainable and resilient to our climate. Our proposals accommodate an action plan for coastal hazards, regional funding for Civil Defence and to grow our work with tangata whenua.

It will be next to impossible to achieve major change without the support and close relationships with central government, our sector partners, tangata whenua and the wider community. So our plan puts more focus on working together with others, and getting the most leverage we can from third-party funding.

The extra funding we received last year from ratepayers - to act on some of the region's environmental hot-spots - has been put to good use, with some very encouraging early results. But it's not enough.

We need to restore our wetlands, plant trees on our hill country and the banks of our rivers and streams. We need to accelerate change for Hawke's Bay. Millions more trees planted. Less soil lost. Cleaner water. A healthier marine environment. Better biodiversity.

Putting into practice our plan to take action at a bigger scale and faster pace needs your support. A firm focus on major instead of modest change puts funding under pressure.

So our plan is to increase the average rate in the coming year by around $1 a week more per property. We propose a 13.8 per cent rate increase to focus on fixing the region's environmental priorities, along with 5.2 per cent for a proposed regional Civil Defence rate - that we'll pick up from the city and district councils.

We recognise these numbers are significant, even off a low rating base, but a necessary commitment to help us protect and enhance the environment of Hawke's Bay.

Our plan is to take ownership of issues that won't go away unless we allocate resources and people to fix them.

From March 19, we are asking for your feedback on our proposals.

You'll see more of this in local papers, in your letterbox late this month, online and through the regional council's Facebook page. My fellow councillors and I will be at the seven community meetings we're holding in April. These will be advertised.

You can also see a comparison of last year and this year's proposed rates at hbrc.govt.nz, which is a great way to see the specific changes for your property.

This is a 10-year plan to fix our environment. I strongly encourage you to have you say, express your view and tell us what you want to see in the future for you and your family.

• Rex Graham is chairman of Hawke's Bay Regional Council