One thing about ratepayers is that when they get agitated about a particular issue, they use the next available election to make a statement.

Thus, it can be argued that voters in the Hawke's Bay Regional Council elections, particularly the Napier and Hastings wards, have voted emphatically against the proposed Ruataniwha Dam.

The dam proposal, driven by council officials, was mostly given a green light by a 5-4 majority in favour on the old council. Chairman Fenton Wilson, deputy chair Christine Scott, Napier councillors Alan Dick and Dave Pipe and Central Hawke's Bay representative Debbie Hewitt ensured that as many boxes as possible were ticked.

The anti-dam councillors, Rex Graham, Peter Beaven, Tom Belford and Rick Barker were always going to be on the losing side.


But, there seems to have been a groundswell building in Napier and Hastings. Increasingly this newspaper started hearing about normally conservative, pro-establishment residents of Napier being strongly opposed to the dam being built.

Some of them were retired accountants, CFOs and businessmen who had done the sums on the back of an envelope and decided that the financial case for the dam did not stack up.

Paul Bailey, until recently a Green Party office holder and avowed anti-dam campaigner, put himself up for election again, having been thumped in the elections three years ago.

This time he has found himself, along with incumbent Alan Dick and former councillor Neil Kirton, elected to the council. Mr Pipe and Ms Scott had not stood for re-election so there were two vacant seats.

The theory is that many dyed-in-the-wool National Party supporters have backed a Greenie (Bailey) in a bid to send a strong message that they do not want their rates spent on the dam.

The campaign to encourage people opposed to the dam to only vote for Mr Bailey, thus cancelling out any pro candidates, seems to have worked.

Some may argue that there is still support for the dam because Mr Dick, Mr Wilson (by a slim majority) and Mrs Hewitt have been re-elected and there is no doubt that many still do support the dam.

Mrs Hewitt was always going to be re-elected because Central Hawke's Bay is dam country, Mr Wilson is a skilled politician who knows how to get re-elected and Mr Dick has the name recognition and track record in civil service that was always going to get him back on.


Mr Beaven was always going to beat unknown Dan Ross in the Ngaruroro ward, but the Hastings ward was more uncertain with experienced politicians Cynthia Bowers and Tim Gilbertson pitting themselves against incumbents Mr Graham, Mr Barker and Mr Belford.

Ms Bowers had previously polled very highly when she was elected to the Hastings District Council in previous elections and it seemed as if she may have the edge over Mr Belford.

But the incumbent trio held on to their seats and their victory (although not official at present), along with Mr Bailey's success, changes the ball game completely.

Add to the mix that dam fence-sitter Mr Kirton is known to favour winning sides, you could have a situation where a 5-4 majority in favour of the dam last term could become a 5-4 or even 6-3 advantage against the dam.

Also, it is quite possible, in fact almost probable, that Mr Wilson will not be chair and therefore the council will more than likely be steered by Rex Graham, who has consistently railed against the way this dam project has been pushed through.

However, whatever the numbers are, the big question is whether or not this new council can or will stop the dam from being built.

Only time will tell.