Two years ago the proposal for amalgamation failed. The HB community voted overwhelmingly to retain their individual councils.

A year later I was voted in as the chair of HB Regional council.

Our principle task is to protect and enhance the environment, alongside an economic development role as owners of the Port, stop banks, drainage systems, etc.

I see my role as chairman to ensure we can support a dynamic economy – an economy that provides opportunities and jobs for our people while working in harmony with the environment.


We have a council that is very committed to this endeavour. It's a delicate balance but I sincerely believe we can achieve it, in spite of fundamentalist positions at either end of the spectrum in our community. This diversity of culture and views creates healthy debate and we will eventually reach the right accord for our region.

If the Germans can do it, so can we.

There is now a very strong focus in this council to get back to our core competency of protecting and enhancing the environment, which is what our new plan "Facing the Future" is all about. But this will not be at the cost of economic growth.

It is also significant that, in this role, HBRC is the only council with "reach" and responsibility throughout the entire region. We have thought a lot about our role and wondered how we can make this work in a broader sense to create efficiencies for the region; to develop a sensible "post-amalgamation view of the world".

It is for this reason, after some vigorous debate, our council have agreed to take on the rating responsibility for Civil Defence - currently funded separately by each council.

As you are aware this is a significant part of our proposed rate increase (5.2 per cent) and not all my councillors are happy about this. Accepting other councils' rating responsibility isn't usually a palatable "political meal". To their credit a majority agreed to do this and our new 10 year plan proposes that all Civil Defence is rated and collected regionally by HBRC.

In this instance taking a regional approach to a rating issue seemed sensible and this proposal is now before the community.

Collecting the tourism marketing fund is another good example of where we do this on a regional basis, just like the proposal to fund Civil Defence regionally.

In the past the city councils rated for tourism and each contributed to HB Tourism to help fund generic marketing - as they currently do for Civil Defence.

HBRC took over this responsibly to collect the tourism generic marketing rate around six years ago.

Three years ago, HBRC increased tourism funding to $1.8m per year and this was part of a regional rates increase. This was only achieved after some equally vigorous debate and was passed by a slim majority.

HB Tourism has done an excellent job using the extra capital to develop their website and extend their network for the benefit of the HB tourist industry stakeholders and the region. They have exceeded all their KPI targets.

However, a majority of councillors believe that this essential capital work is now done and that the tourism sector has had a considerable leg up from regional ratepayers, and it's now time for the industry to fund some of its own generic marketing.

There is a view that the council should not be funding selected industry groups and needs to get back to its core environmental functions; that the tourism industry is very successful and very profitable in HB and they need to find a way to fund their generic marketing advertising.

It is important to note that regional ratepayers will still give the tourism industry $1.45 million in 2018 – considerably more than they give to any other industry sector group.

HBRC could continue to fund the entire $1.85m though a regional rate adding another 1.6 per cent rate to our present rate increase proposals but at the moment this does not have the support of a majority of my council.

None of the proposals in our 10 year plan are final and have been vigorously debated at our consultation meetings which many of you attended. We now look forward to receiving your submissions.

* Rex Graham is Hawke's Bay Regional Council's chairman