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Where the rubber meets the road - Rattling the Chains 24 August 2023

Waka Kotahi road seal

Mayor’s report from Council meeting 17 August 2023  

Big issues play out in everyday lives at a local level. We’re seeing the effects of climate change alter lives and livelihoods, and global economic shifts translate to grocery bills and mortgage rates right here in Central Hawke’s Bay.  

But it’s also at this local level that we can make effective change, constructively pushing back against a system in which decisions are typically made at a level far away from where we live. Case in point: fed up with the state of the nation’s roads, one of my mayoral colleagues, Neil Holdom of New Plymouth District Council, has obtained approval from Parliament for a poll on a nationwide referendum on road maintenance funding ahead of October’s general election.  

Neil’s petition will ask the question: "Should the New Zealand government fund road maintenance at levels sufficient to reverse the current decline in the average age and condition of our national state highway network?" and is aimed at giving Kiwis the opportunity to send a message to all political parties about this crucial aspect of their daily lives. At our Council meeting last week, we voted to support this petition, and to make it available at Council hubs for those in our community who would like to add their signature.

Not only are our local roads in a perilous state post-Cyclone, the deterioration of state highways is a national problem with literal local impact, as anyone driving through the district on State Highway 2 or State Highway 50 knows. This Waka Kotahi graphic shows why the issue is particularly relevant to Hawke’s Bay:

Waka Kotahi’s maintenance and renewal programme has clearly been insufficient to maintain the health of our state highway roading assets, at least as measured by the average remaining seal life. This national problem is affecting our communities where the rubber meets the road, and it’s likely to continue to get worse due to climate change and rising cost pressures.  

Mayors across the country are united on the issue of our damaged roads, both our local networks (the responsibility of local Councils) and state highways (which Waka Kotahi maintains). Local Government New Zealand are considering all avenues to address the systemic rundown of our national roading infrastructure.  

Neil’s petition takes one of those avenues at a timely point in the political calendar, as the draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport was tabled in Parliament last week.  

This statement specifies how much money the Government wants Waka Kotahi to spend across different parts of the transport system, including road maintenance. Waka Kotahi will draw up its own plans from this, setting out how much money Councils will receive to invest in maintaining and building roads.  

It’s good to see that the government has called for a bigger focus on maintenance as part of addressing recent extreme weather events and preparing for future ones. We should have the resources to look after the roads we’ve got, but this hasn’t always been the case. Outside cities we currently have very few alternatives to driving, so we need a thoughtful approach by central government that considers the realities faced by largely rural communities like our own. The need for a resilient, dependable roading network is central. 

However, if people are going to be paying more in fuel tax to fund increased maintenance of roads, the end results will be key. We must be able to see and measure results, and local leadership and knowledge must partner in delivering those results. We want to work with central government to deliver long-term, sustainable roading solutions that consider local contexts - and local roading networks!

Decisions about how our democracy is shaped are fundamental to achieving good local outcomes. By law, we must consider our representation arrangements every six years. Council was presented with the option to stay with our current first past the post electoral system for local government elections or to change to a single transferable vote system. While we decided that our current system is working for us at present, any resident with support from 5% of eligible voters still has the right to demand a poll on our chosen electoral system. Look out for more information on Council’s website and social media. 

This same representation review prompts consideration about specific representation on Council for people on the Māori electoral roll. There is a process to be followed this year under the Local Electoral Act, and consultation is at its heart. Again, look out for more information, including a chance to have your say.  

24 August 2023

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