Just days after Hawke's Bay Regional Council agreed to consult on proposals to sell part of Napier Port, a petition is underway to take the issue to a public referendum.

A group of volunteer residents last night launched the "Our Port Our Say" petition requesting the council to "undertake a public referendum on the final preferred option determined from the public consultation or retain the full ownership and control of Napier Port".

The petition would need 5 per cent of residents within Hawke's Bay Regional Council boundary and who are enrolled to vote to sign it, in order to reach the threshold required to trigger a referendum.

That means 5837 signatures are required.


Founding member Anna Lorck said Our Port Our Say's role was simple and the petition and referendum were straight-forward.

"Our role is to get you, your vote. Not to influence your vote. Once the 5% threshold is met, the group will be disbanded."

The group would collect signatures by hard copy and people could also sign up online.

"We are a volunteer group of like-minded residents from across Hawke's Bay. We've got together because we all believe the final decision should be made by the people of Hawke's Bay who own our Port – not the council alone.

"The council's chairman has called on the public to hold him and his council to account on delivering a robust and fully transparent process.

Anna Lork. Photo / File
Anna Lork. Photo / File

"This referendum does exactly that and it also guarantees everyone a fair and equal say in the decision right across Hawke's Bay from CHB to Wairoa.

"It's sends a very positive and power message; we're putting it in the hands of the people to decide."

Lorck said she had received overwhelming feedback from people who had got in touch with her after an opinion piece she wrote in Hawke's Bay Today.

"So, over a couple of weeks, lots more phone calls and emails, we've got together and launched Our Port Our Say.

"We needed an initiator for the petition and Leslie Williams, a Hastings resident, kindly agreed take up this role. It is a statutory requirement."

On Wednesday, the regional council agreed to consult publicly on four potential options to fund Napier Port's growth requirements, retain majority ownership and balance the council's investments.

That would leave it with a controlling stake in a growing business, sufficient cash to fund environmental projects it plans, and a more diversified investment base.

The council's preferred option would be to float a 45 per cent stake of the port on the New Zealand Stock Exchange.

Other options the council is seeking feedback on include the sale of a minority stake to a partner, the sale of a long-term lease to an operator, or retain the current structure and raising rates by 45 per cent to fund the port's expansion.

HBRC chairman Rex Graham said on Wednesday he expected a call from some quarters for a referendum but said public consultation was the right way for decisions "of this significance and complexity" to be made.

"We're dealing with a challenge that local authorities around the world are now dealing with - how to fund major investment in strategic assets while retaining ownership. We don't have time to wait, as the port needs to get on with investing in our region's future.

"A 45 per cent market listing will serve our region and our port well, but we're open to other ways. Now it's time for Hawke's Bay locals to engage in this conversation and have their say."

Graham could not be reached for comment.