Newspaper Article 2019 – A rocky road to local body reforms

A rocky road to local body reforms

Michael Fowler
Historic Hawke’s Bay

Thirty years ago, on November 1, 1989, a dramatic reform of local government authorities in New Zealand came into effect.

In Hawke’s Bay there were 21 local authorities that existed before the reform, and this was reduced to just six from November 1, 1989.

Two years before this, submissions were called for by the Government from local authorities asking what new entities should be created from local authority restructuring.

Hastings City Council’s preference was to create a Hastings District Council that took over the functions carried out by Hastings City Council, Hawke’s Bay County Council (rural areas of Hawke’s Bay) and Havelock North Borough Council. Amalgamation of Havelock North with Hastings had been discussed on and off since the 1960s.

When Hastings City Council’s preference became known, a reaction was swift from many in Havelock North – the villagers in the borough of Havelock North were not at all keen on amalgamation with Hastings.

Mayor of Havelock North, the late Harry Romanes, said he didn’t believe amalgamation would be advantageous to his residents, and referred to a 1985 survey where an amalgamation survey soundly rejected joining with Hastings.

In response to these fears, Hastings mayor Jeremy Dwyer assured the people of Havelock North that he “won’t grab the village” and that “church bells will still peal; school uniforms will remain different and I am convinced the village will remain friendly and will retain its beauty, country-like leisureliness, politeness and so on”.

“Hastings people” he assured, “are nice and that they speak to each other too” (some thought Havelock’s friendliness would be tarnished by mixing with Hastings).

One Havelock North resident wrote that if amalgamation of Hastings and Havelock North went ahead, no one in Hastings would be concerned about solving problems that applied to Havelock North, such as the recent delays in mail deliveries in Havelock North.

In August 1988 Hastings, Havelock North and Napier issued a statement favouring the creation of two district councils – Napier and Hastings, for the Heretaunga plains. Havelock North, however, said if this occurred, to retain its identity it wanted a district community council which would have an elected mayor and councillors. Hastings City councillor David Pearse of Flaxmere said, “If Havelock North wanted a district community council, then Flaxmere should have the same”.

The Hawke’s Bay County Council was not pleased at all about creation of two district councils – and the resultant carving up its area. Early signs of what would become a major issue during 1991 occurred in August 1988 when some rural ratepayers feared “funds being sucked out of the county for inner city projects of limited value”.

Despite the jostling for positions in amalgamation over two years, central government decided upon the new local authorities to take effect for local body elections in October 1989. The Hawke’s Bay County Council, Hastings City Council and Havelock North Borough Council would all disappear and be replaced by the Hastings District Council. Waipawa and Waipukurau boroughs were amalgamated to form the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council. Dannevirke Borough became Tararua District Council and the Wairoa District Council was formed.

An 18 member Hawke’s Bay United Council was formed in 1983, comprising members from Hawke’s Bay County Council, Hastings City Council, Napier City Council, Havelock North Borough Council and Waipukurau and Waipawa District Councils.

This would be renamed the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, which would be given 92 per cent of the former Hawke’s Bay Harbour Board, which was turned into limited liability company, Port of Napier Ltd. It had responsibilities to manage natural resources from Wairoa to Central Hawke’s Bay.

The other 8 per cent of shares was vested in the new Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council. While this might seem strange, part of the area on the Hawke’s Bay side of the Manawatu Gorge, now part of this new regional council, had once paid rates towards the former Hawke’s Bay Harbour Board. Their 8 per cent shareholding was bought by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in 1997.

Napier City Council had minimal change from the reforms, with its land size increasing by about 1.5 per cent from inheriting some rural areas of the Hawke’s Bay County Council.

Hawke’s Bay Harbour Board’s leasehold land (mostly gained from the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake uplift) was divided up between the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (who received the majority) and Napier City Council. The property development of Lagoon Farm in recent years by Napier City Council was part of this allocation.

The new Hastings District Council didn’t receive any allocation of the Hawke’s Bay Harbour Board land. It also faced an unhappy Havelock North fearing its identity would now be lost forever, and who had hid its mayoral chair and refused to cross the Karamu Stream to deposit the mayoral chains at the headquarters of the new Hastings District Council – the former Hastings City Council.

Havelock North’s antics would be nothing compared to the so-called “rural revolt” which was about to envelop the new Hastings District Council during 1991. Significant ratepayers of the former Hawke’s Bay County Council were not happy about the amalgamation.

There would be little harmony for the next 18 months between town and country.

But that’s next week’s story.

Michael Fowler FCA ([email protected]) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke’s Bay’s history. He will be giving a brief overview and hosting a panel of Jeff Whittaker, Megan Williams and Mark Von Dadelszen to discuss the 30th Anniversary since the creation of the Hastings District Council. The event will be held at the Havelock North function Centre at 2pm on 3 November.

Signed copies of Michael Fowler’s Historic Hawke’s Bay book are available at $65 from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell St South, Hastings and Wardini Books Havelock North and Napier.

Photo caption – Fearing the loss of identity after local government reform, the coffin of “Independent Havelock North” makes its way down Te Mata Rd in October 1989.

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2 November 2019

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