Dodgy Council’s dodgy consultation for the dodgy dam exposed

The Hawkes Bay Regional Council has got to be one of the dodgiest councils in NZ.

Their commitment to the ratepayers is scant. Look at the way they have conducted their ‘public’ consultation over the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

You could be forgiven if you’ve missed it, but June 8 marks the end of HBRC’s public consultation process on the amendments to its Long-Term Plan. These amendments include the proposal for HBRC to buy approximately $40 million of water from its own investment company via the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

That is not a trivial sum of money, but initially five of our regional councillors decided that it was not a significant enough to warrant public consultation.

That is, until there was an outcry and the Auditor-General advised that they must put it in as an amendment to the Long-Term Plan (LTP) and consult with the public.

As part of this “public consultation process”, HBRC organised a series of “Have Your Say” meetings. In Wairoa, the meeting was held at 3-5pm on a Wednesday, and in Havelock North from 2-4pm on a Monday.

What percentage of the population can actually attend at those times? There was no meeting held in Hastings.

When I raised the issue of meeting times, I was told by a member of HBRC staff that if they held the meetings in the evening it would “clash with Coronation Street”.

I asked if they would put more meetings on at more appropriate times for the working population and they said no. I attended both the Havelock North and Napier meetings and there were 11 members of the public present at both. That is a fail for public engagement.

A total fail. But the fail gets worse.

Obviously, the effectiveness of any public consultation exercise is greatly dependent on how well it is advertised. Recently, Hastings District Council held a public consultation on the future of the Opera House. If you live or work in the Hastings district, it was practically impossible to miss it.

I contacted HDC to find out what their advertising budgets were: they spent $18,000 on postage-paid feedback fliers that were sent out to ratepayers and handed out to the public, $1000 on billboards, $10,000 on radio advertisements, $12,000 in print media advertisements. That’s a total of $41,000, and they received well over 3000 submissions as a result.

(Incidentally, they held four public information sessions: in Havelock North from 10am-12pm on a Saturday; in Hastings 11am-1pm on a Saturday, and at the Hastings Night Market 5.30-7.30pm; and in Flaxmere 4-6pm on a Thursday.) Contrast that with the publicity budget for HBRCs consultation process: they spent $11,700 on print media advertisements and just $1000 on radio advertisements.

So, HDC spent over three times as much on an issue that was potentially worth about half as much money and affected half as many people as HBRC’s LTP amendments.

Talk about wonky priorities and dodgy projects.

Interestingly, HBRC’s 2015 Regional Survey indicated that ratepayers would prefer HBRC to contact them by post (favoured by 41 per cent of people surveyed), followed by email (26 per cent), HBRC’s website (25 per cent) and HBRC brochures (21 per cent). HBRC spent all of their money on print and radio advertisements. That is a fail for public communication.

Failure all round.

And what happens when the public do have their say? Where the RWSS is concerned, it seems, they are ignored. At every public consultation where comments were invited about the RWSS, the majority have been against it:

– In 2012, of the 81 submissions to the Long-Term Plan consultation, 68 were against the RWSS.

– In October 2012, in the “Tukituki choices” consultation, under the “General comments on Ruataniwha Water Storage Project” heading, 41 were critical of the RWSS and only eight supported it. Of the submissions on the four options presented in the documents, 47 favoured the options without a dam while only 42 favoured those with.

– In 2014 in the “Better to know” consultation, 135 individuals (not groups like Fish and Game or Federated Farmers) supported the RWSS, but around 1000 were against.

– In submissions to the 2015-2025 LTP, 16 were against the RWSS and only six for.

Yet still the RWSS project is pushed through. What does all this say about HBRC’s willingness to engage and listen to the public? It suggests they are merely paying lip service to public consultation; that it is merely a “box-ticking exercise” to be endured.

The Dodgy council is pushing ahead with their dodgy project for a dodgy socialist dam using dodgy public consultation process. The council needs a thorough rinsing come October.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • F T Bear

    Looks like plenty of consultation to me, we all know it’s not about the number of submissions don’t we.
    I’ll say it again, it is a good thing for hawkes bay, always was and still is.
    Just because it’s been hijacked buy selfish self interested groups that are only concerned with their own agendas, that have mislead and prolonged the process doesn’t make it a bad thing.
    Get the diggers down there now, I say.

    • Andrewj

      the selfish, self interested groups, concerned with there own agendas are on the other side mate.

      • F T Bear

        “The other side” this is part of the problem, just about everyone agrees water storage is needed and is a good thing, but instead of getting on with the project and working together, making some compromises, we have this endless whining and lack of will to do what is right for the majority of the population in HB

        • Andrewj

          if it so good, why are so many local farmers like me opting out of making a 35 year commitment?
          The area has some interesting climatic conditions, I am invested in horticulture but still don’t see a return from this scheme.
          I don’t like the detail in the flow data and I don’t think the water will be there when I need it.
          NZ is a very expensive country to do business in and I am considering whether it’s still worth investing in, or like several friends I should be looking offshore.

          • F T Bear

            You obviously have a lot more skin in the game than me, and like all the farm users will have to make your choice, from what I see there are many who have signed up. The farm use will not provide all the benefits, I believe it will provide employment opportunities, recreational activities, improved infrastructure, flushing flows etc.
            My biggest issue is the misinformation or lack of information, and I’ll include the council in that. People like Rex graham and the tywford growers have a personal bitch with the council that has nothing to do with rwss, they are just using this project to get at the council, their own agenda

  • Peter

    Submissions = delay tactics by minority interest gfroups
    F&B lawsuit is a delay tactic. Another cost.
    DOC landswap sounds like a pretty good deal to me.22ha for the dam site in return for over 100ha.

    • Andrewj

      Is that the back of the hill that Smedley own? I always thought that country was cutover a few years back when the mill was operating, last time I was there it was in pretty poor condition.

      • F T Bear

        I’m not sure exactly which piece of land it is ( some investigative journalism from the local rag might help) but as I understand it, it is Smedley land that they will not be able to access due to the lake, when the dam is full. It will be put back into bush, so it’s condition is of little relevance. Peter is right, a net gain of 157 ha into the conservation estate is a good outcome.