It's hard to believe 2015 is coming to an end! I am sure everyone is looking forward to their well-deserved break over the summer. I have had a very enjoyable year as a new MP. It has been a privilege to represent the people of the Wairarapa electorate, and to work on exciting new government policies in Parliament. As people of Hawke's Bay are aware, this year has brought a number of exciting new opportunities for growth in the region.
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was concluded in October. It is New Zealand's largest free trade agreement! The benefits this will bring to Hawke's Bay are immense, with our region famed for having high-quality agricultural exports. This is a fantastic opportunity to bring wealth to the region. The TPPA does this by improving access to international markets. Our exporters will sell more products and services to the world.
Many New Zealanders have managed to achieve their dream of home ownership thanks to the Government's KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme.
Since April this year, the Government has doubled its support for first-home buyers and since then almost 6300 KiwiSaver HomeStart grants have been approved.
These grants have helped people right across the country, not just in the main cities. In Hastings, Napier and Central Hawke's Bay 292 people have had their applications approved, with 189 properties having already been bought. This number will continue to increase as people choose sunny Hawke's Bay to buy their first home.
The Hawke's Bay DHB has also done a fantastic job in reaching its health targets. Ninety per cent of people at risk of heart disease or diabetes in the region have been tested in the past five years. The elective surgery and immunisation targets were also reached thanks to the hard work of the medical profession in Hawke's Bay.
This year, we have also had the chance to explore alternative flag designs - something we will probably never get another chance to do in our lifetimes. The first referendum to select the most preferred alternative flag design has been completed. In a final binding referendum next March voters will be able to make a choice between the preferred new design and the current flag.
Whether we decide on something new or keep the current flag we have the chance to participate directly in a democracy. With these highlights of 2015, there is also so much more for Hawke's Bay to look forward to in 2016.
The prime minister has announced the Government will be investing $530,000 in 10 new projects to enhance the New Zealand Cycle Trail. Of this investment, $23,000 will be going to Hawke's Bay Regional Council. Improvements to the cycle way will see an increase in domestic and international tourists to Hawke's Bay, boosting the regional economy.
The Government has introduced a bill to amend the Resource Management Act. The bill has more than 40 proposed changes aimed at reducing bureaucracy, improving consistency, more responsive planning, and simplified consenting. As Hawke's Bay has experienced all too well this year, council planning currently takes too long and getting consents is unnecessarily complex and expensive. These reforms are moderate and practical. Under the current act the consenting process is often disproportionately bureaucratic and expensive for those looking to make minor changes. Restrictive land regulations is one of the biggest factors undermining house affordability. As the bill progresses through the House next year, I look forward to the public debate and select committee processes.
Overall, this has been an exciting and productive year and I look forward to serving you as a member of the John Key National Government.
Alaistair Scott is MP for Wairarapa.