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Rattling the chains: Report from the Council table

CHB Councillors with new Ruapehu Mayor Weston Kirton Oct22

In October, nine familiar faces took their seats again around the Council table. I’m one of that number. I’m honoured to return as your Mayor with a tried and true hardworking team of Councillors. 

We have not seen re-election as just a mandate to continue as we have in the past and it is most certainly NOT an invitation to rest on our laurels. In a time of sweeping change and economic challenges, we as a Council need to be prepared to continue to be responsive, flexible and forward-thinking. 

While nationally there has been talk of a “participation problem” in local government elections, locally the voting turnout for our one contested ward was just under 44%, slightly above the national average. I don’t want to simply label it a problem, I want to make sure we are focused on making sure local government is accessible, relevant and valuable for everyone. Then, and only then, will we see more participation. 

Working towards that solution here and now is squarely down to us, your Mayor and Councillors, and we’re stepping into this new triennium with that in mind and bringing things like this new column each month to try and give you are better inside look into what’s happening. 

We know what we’re working on every day, while sometimes technical and often challenging, is very far from boring. The decisions we make at our Council table affect our communities not just today, but far into the future. We want to give everyone opportunities to be part of the decisions that shape their district. 

Our catch-cry here at Council is “Together we Thrive”. Often, we focus on the word ‘thrive’ when in fact it is the relationships we build both in and out of district that make the ‘Together’ so powerful. 

In that spirit we took a Councillors’ team trip, setting off the day after being sworn in, to see how Ruapehu District Council manage their large rural roading network and government partnership for social housing. On the way we visited Taupō District Council to learn about their groundbreaking iwi partnerships, as well as see the results of their town centre rejuvenation. 

This is just the beginning of our ‘reset journey’ for the next triennium, which will always return to its point of origin – our district and community. 

Ruapehu District is an interesting place which is similar to us in some ways. A large rural area, large roading network and a small rating base being the first obvious similarities. It is also different to us – the much larger tourist economy via Whakapapa, Turoa and Ohakune, while a bit tumultuous at the moment, make their economy work differently to ours. 

So when the nine of us go to a place like this, ask lots of questions and pick through the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, we bring home the pieces that will help us make Central Hawke’s Bay a better place. For instance, we learned about the strategy they used to fund and build some social housing that brought building materials in from Europe. But we also learned about some differences in roading asset-management approach when it came to renewals compared to resurfacing, and also in water table maintenance. 

While everyone in our district knows that our roading network has been hammered over the past couple of months, we now have some ideas to work through on how to build it back better. You can expect some important conversations about our roading connections over the coming months!

Look out for a new article every month in the CHB Mail – fronting up after every Council meeting with an insider’s view into local government, sharing candid insights and unpicking decisions. We’ll be sharing and expanding on the issues on social media too, so you can join the conversation. 

I'd be delighted if you walk with us as we embark on this exciting journey ahead.

14 November 2022

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