Tempers flared as the tourism industry clashed with regional councillors at a heated meeting this week over a proposed $1.8 million funding cut to Hawke's Bay Tourism, in favour of a greater focus on the environment.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council is holding a series of consultation meetings over the coming weeks as part of its Long Term Plan 2018-2028. The first is at Porters Boutique Hotel in Havelock North on Wednesday.
The proposed cut has divided the community - shown at Wednesday's meeting when a strong contingent from the tourism sector turned out, and clashed with several regional councillors in attendance.
There was a "vigorous exchange of views" between ratepayer Chris Lee and regional councillor Tom Belford, who reportedly raised his voice and reacted strongly to a question from Mr Lee.
Yesterday Mr Lee said his question had been around nerves that the momentum built by Hawke's Bay Tourism to bring more events to the region would be lost if the funding cut went ahead.
"Tourism is an integral part of the Hawke's Bay economy presently and also more importantly for the future, and for our future generations," he said. "I just think he misunderstood the question and made it clear the environment is the priority, and that tourism isn't really part of their strategic plan going forward."
"I'm unsure why they reacted like they did, I was just a bit disappointed with the reaction."
Mr Lee said he did not expect that sort of behaviour from an elected representative.
"We all get heated when things happen. We all do that and sometimes you just need to own it, or apologise or even answer the question," he said. "We can all have a difference in opinion but at the end of the day it's about respecting everyone and being professional."
He was concerned at the lack of open dialogue at the meeting - "you almost felt the consultation was over before it started".
Mr Belford yesterday made "no apology" for his statements, which he said were in response to personal offence against the councillors.
"He was very concerned that our plans … and specifically that our councillors who were at the meeting had no passion for Hawke's Bay, and that he was dismayed that we had no concern for the future of Hawke's Bay.
"We have just put forward a huge 10-year programme that is all about the future of Hawke's Bay, that is about making it sustainable and a great place to live, not just to visit."
Mr Belford said he felt his passion was shown by the fact he was fronting "for what could be a very unpopular rate increase, because I believe in it, and I believe that is necessary for the greater good of our region".
Council chair Rex Graham said the tourism industry was vocal in representing its frustration, but would not comment on the appropriateness of Mr Belford's behaviour.
"Tom [Belford] was clearly annoyed about the comment that the member of the public made, and he reacted. A member of the public got very personal, and it is true that Tom got personal back."
Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas was not at the meeting, but had received lots of feedback from the many industry operators who had been present, and keen to have their voices heard.
The long term plan proposes a 19 per cent rate increase, 13 per cent of which would go toward environmental priorities. The reduction in Hawke's Bay Tourism funding would reduce rates by 1.6 per cent.
Another meeting was held last night at Te Taiwhenua Heretaunga, Hastings.
9 April Town Hall Meeting Napier Conference Centre 6-8pm
10 April Town Hall Meeting Taradale Town Hall 6-8pm
11 April Town Hall Meeting Waipawa Town Hall 6-8pm
12 April Town Hall Meeting Karamu High School – Hastings 6-8pm
19 April Town Hall Meeting Wairoa Memorial Hall, 6-8pm