Amalgamation gets the thumbs down after vote

Hawke's Bay Regional Council has voted against supporting a proposal for amalgamation, but councillors are split over whether their council should exist as a standalone body.

Debating the council's submission to the Local Government Commission's draft proposal to create a unitary authority yesterday, they voted 5-3 in favour of a submission that did not support the proposal.

The submission said the proposed unitary authority would be too influenced by urban concerns and stated that, if a unitary authority was formed, dividends from council assets such as the Port of Napier should be "ring-fenced" for environmental functions.

Councillor Tom Belford said he found the suggestion that the regional council had been "a bastion of defence for the Hawke's Bay environment strikes a lot of people I associate with as ludicrous".

"To mount an argument that this institute has some kind of ‘delivered by God' mandate that cannot be otherwise met by a different structure like a unitary authority . . . there's just no case for it."

Peter Beaven felt the submission "looks terribly like self-preservation".

Rex Graham said: "I think it's a farce to suggest that a new council wouldn't pick up all these functions that we do currently."

But Alan Dick was critical of the commission's work. He said "three carpetbaggers have ridden into town" to undertake a "once-over-lightly" assessment of the region's local government.

"This government is not sympathetic to local government generally, but in particular regional councils," Mr Dick said.

Territorial authorities had never liked regional councils because they envied their wealth and because regional councils sometimes told them what to do, he said.

The allegations of self-interest were "as nonsensical as people being elected on to a body with the primary intent of dismantling it".

Christine Scott said she "had looked at the performance of unitaries and Auckland, which has more dairy farms than we have, and they're not delivering on their environmental outcomes".

If amalgamation went ahead it would be followed by a process of de-amalgamation in 10 years time, she said.

The commission's draft proposal was released on November 26. Submissions must be in by next Friday.

Public hearings will be held around mid-April.

The commission proposed a 10-member council supported by a layer of five boards representing communities.

The Dominion Post