Hawke's Bay residents have voted overwhelmingly no to a proposal to amalgamate five local councils, a progress result released this afternoon shows.
It was announced today that voters in the Hawke's Bay have chosen not to amalgamate the Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Central Hawke's Bay and Hawke's Bay regional councils.
About 66.18% of people (44,681) voted no compared to 33.55% (22,649) who voted yes.
This result is based upon the counting of approximately 97% of the returned voting papers (67,511). The voter return is currently 60.87%, being 67,511 voting papers, excluding voting papers in transit to the processing centre.
The Hastings District, which voted heavily in favour of amalgamation with Napier 16 years ago, was split almost 50/50 in the poll which has rejected a region-wide merger of Hawke's Bay councils.
According to this afternoon's progress result, 51.46 per cent of 29,462 Hastings District postal votes cast over the last three weeks supported amalgamation of a regional council and four local councils, and 48.24 per cent were against. It compared with 67 per cent support for a Napier-Hastings merger 26,844 who turned up at the booths in the Hastings District on polling day in November 1999.
But the Local Government Commission's amalgamation proposal was heavily outvoted in the three other council areas in the latest poll. Napier was 87.68 per cent against, Wairoa 83.99 per cent against, and Central Hawke's Bay 57.98 per cent against.
In reaction Local Government Minister Paula Bennett said Hawke's Bay residents' decision to keep their current local government structures shows the value of letting communities decide.
"I have consistently said that it is up for communities to decide what they want local democracy to look like in their towns and cities," Mrs Bennett says.
"No matter what the structure is, New Zealanders' expectations of local government are quite clear. They want their local leaders to focus on promoting strong regional growth, spending ratepayers' money wisely, and provide outstanding customer service.
"This has been a hard fought campaign by those both in favour and against amalgamation, and I hope the region comes together to focus on creating more growth and opportunities."
The issue has divided the region.
Debate has been raging for more than two years.
It all started in February 2013 when pro-amalgamation group A Better Hawke's Bay submitted an application to the Local Government Commission to reorganise governance in the region.
One council, one mayor and one voice, they argued was the best way forward.
After reading submissions proposing everything from Napier taking land off Hastings to a single East Coast council, the Commission agreed that one merged super council was the answer for Hawke's Bay.
It released a draft proposal in November 2013 planning to replace Napier city, Hastings District, Wairoa, Central Hawke's Bay and Hawke's Bay Regional Council with one council consisting of one mayor, nine councillors and five community boards.
People were affronted at the dramatic drop in representation - even from the camp gunning for change. So, after reading even more submissions, and listening to the public the commission doubled the number of councillors to 18.
In February this year the Commission released a report showing that Napier City and Wairoa District Council had under-invested in core infrastructure to the tune of tens of millions of dollars when compared with neighbouring local authorities Hastings and Central Hawke's Bay. This, the commission said, supported its argument for amalgamation.
The report infuriated the Napier and Wairoa councils which said claims they had under-invested in infrastructure such as roads and sewerage systems were inaccurate and biased.
The commission released its final proposal in June. It again said amalgamation was the way forward. However, it scrapped plans to merge councils in Wellington and Northland saying there was little support for major structural upheaval in those regions.
Commission chairman Basil Morrison said the decision to make Hawke's Bay a super city was based on public support.
The final proposal called for a unitary authority which would be responsible for both regional council and territorial authority functions.
Just two days after the final proposal was released, pro-amalgamation lobby group A Better Hawkes' Bay submitted a petition to the commission seeking a poll on the issue.
They went straight to a small section of the Rangitikei District asking residents to sign a petition calling for a vote.
It was fewer than 10 signatures - from people who don't pay rates to the four territorial councils in the region - that forced a referendum.
Because of the way the relevant law is written, a clutch of about 20 rural residents who are Hawke's Bay Regional Council ratepayers but Rangitikei District residents are deemed to make up an "affected area" - one of seven where a petition of 10 per cent of voters was required to trigger a region-wide poll.
The decision was put to a vote.
The people voted against.