As much as councillors have to steer clear of charges of pre-determination, the regional council's decision to progress a partial sale of Napier Port was as predictable as it is disappointing.

No sooner had they decided on that as a preferred option – in accord with legislative requirements to state a preference – than the chair and most councillors were busy talking up a share float and downplaying any other scenario throughout the consultation process.

So it's little wonder half the public submissions followed their lead, thereby giving the council all the justification they needed to pursue a sale.

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Sure, people may have chosen that option regardless, but the copious self-congratulatory rhetoric trotted out during the decision-making meeting on Wednesday about running a supposed "robust and vigorous" exercise frankly left a sour taste in the mouth.

That's disappointing, especially when you consider a number of other options – such as a bond issue, or partnering with central government – were essentially sidelined from the get-go. But more because a fuller and fairer public examination of the other three options put forward would not have prevented this result, if council were minded to deliver it.

And would, at least, have made it a tad more palatable.

Even giving councillors the benefit of the doubt for keeping an open mind until it came to the vote, the decision was disappointing for another reason, too: for failing to progress the other "sale" option, that of finding a suitable investment partner.

Curiously, several councillors and the chairman all referred to this option in a receptive and conciliatory way, and the text of the substantive motion included structuring any share float "with a view to maximising priority allocation to constituents of Hawke's Bay, employees of Napier Port, and local iwi" – with Crown participation thrown in for good measure.

It was also noted at the meeting that just that morning, Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Inc chair Ngahiwi Tomoana had featured in this newspaper saying iwi were interested in a strategic stake. Napier City mayor Bill Dalton also chipped in, in similar vein.

Which begs the question: why not also commit to doing more work on this option, and see where it leads?

See, there's no reason why the council couldn't continue to investigate both a share sale and a strategic partnership.


The whole rationale for making an indicative decision now was to give the port company clear guidance as to whether, and how, its intended works programme was to be underwritten. Both sale options deliver the same result as far as the port is concerned – so both could continue to be pursued without interfering with the port company's own decision-making.

Indeed both sale options also deliver the necessary monies to establish an environmental fighting fund for the future – the outcome eloquently argued by councillors Barker and Belford as their main reason for backing a sale.

Yet no one around the table – not even councillors Bailey and Hewitt, who voted against a share float – moved an amendment to also progress the partner option.

They could have. And, I believe, should have.

But no. The irony is that after all the talk about eggs in one basket driving divestment, the council has already thrown away all but one basket as a means to so divest.

Perhaps the lesson is – Messrs Tomoana and Dalton, and local MP Stuart Nash in particular take note – that if you're a mover and shaker and you leave it until after the consultation has finished before you make your case, then you get short shrift.

Don't expect we ratepayers to thank you for that.