People far from behind the idea of Bay merger

Hawke's Bay people are not impressed with the recommendation to merge the city, district and regional councils into a single authority.

Combining Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Central Hawke's Bay and the regional council could save up to $10 million a year, Local Government Commission chairman Basil Morrison said when the draft proposal was released last November.

But 83 per cent of the 732 submissions did not support it.

That figure was not a surprise to Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Peter Butler. "Five times more people oppose it. I rest my case."

Napier people felt the strongest about the issue - making up 70 per cent of the submissions.

Just 11 per cent came from Hastings residents. The rest came from Wairoa, central Hawke's Bay, Taupo and the Rangitikei District Council catchment.

Napier City Council had been vocal about its opposition. "It suggests to me there is a strong body of support, that we always knew was there, that are against amalgamation," Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said.

But not all Napier residents were against it, with one submission including 107 signatures in support.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, who openly supports amalgamation, did not read too much into the numbers. Almost half the submissions were pro forma documents stating it was "not the best option", but gave no further explanation, he said.

He did not give as much weight to those 348 submissions, which had a signature only. "If you take those numbers out, it's not even but it's a lot more balanced."

Common themes were raised in the submissions, commission chief executive Donald Riezebos said.

On one hand people argued for "one voice" and replacing duplicate services with comprehensive regional planning.

On the other, they worried about losing communities of interests, and possible unemployment caused by the merger.

Some wanted shared services and greater collaboration between councils instead.

Representation was important to submitters. Hastings District Council wanted the number of councillors bumped up to 18.

Wairoa's remoteness was a concern, but some suggested technology could be used to address distance.

The loss of a regional council to manage natural resources was a worry for some, while there were mixed views on Maori representation.

Other proposals asked for ring-fencing of debt, regional assets and Napier Port dividends.

One council would work to advance the interests of the entire region, Riezebos said.

"One council would also address concerns that Hawke's Bay is being held back by rivalry and a lack of co-operation between existing councils."

Butler said it was what the people thought that mattered.

"I can't believe the commission could come to a final decision for amalgamation, otherwise it's bulldust."

The Dominion Post