6 Jan 2015

Tumult, test cases, testosterone

3:50 pm on 6 January 2015

Hawke's Bay had a mild year weather-wise, much to the joy of farmers and tourism operators.

However, the region continues to struggle economically, with leaders talking about ways to lift employment and incomes but not being able to implement any practical initiatives.

The proposed Ruataniwha Dam would be built on this site in Hawke's Bay.

The proposed Ruataniwha Dam would be built on this site in Hawke's Bay. Photo: RNZ / Peter Fowler

The proposed $600 million Ruataniwha water storage project and plans to amalgamate councils dominated much of the news in Hawke's Bay this year.

Two institutional investors, Trustpower and Ngai Tahu, pulled out of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council scheme early in the year, before a two-week board of inquiry granted resource consents for the dam and an associated plan change.

Fish and Game, and Forest and Bird, supported by the Environmental Defence Society, challenged those consents in the High Court, which came back just before Christmas to say the board of inquiry had made an error of law.

The High Court said the board would have to reconsider its terms of consent for the water storage scheme to ensure farming practices would be managed to protect river health.

Investors have not yet been found to replace Trustpower and Ngai Tahu - and contracts signed so far to take water from the irrigation project add up to only about 13 percent of the commitment needed to make the scheme commercially feasible.

DAM CRITICS: Councillors (L-R) Rex Graham, Rick Barker and Tom Belford have been leading critics of the Ruataniwha Dam process.

DAM CRITICS: Councillors (L-R) Rex Graham, Rick Barker and Tom Belford have been leading critics of the Ruataniwha Dam process. Photo: RNZ / Peter Fowler

Read about the Ruataniwha Dam

The Dome building in Napier.

The Dome building in Napier. Photo: 123RF

The Local Government Commission has continued work on the proposed amalgamation of Hawke's Bay's five regional authorities, which saw considerable sparring between the Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule and Napier Mayor Bill Dalton. Mr Yule is in favour of amalgamation while Mr Dalton is fiercely opposed.

Next year, the Commission will engage an independent research company to test public support for its proposal and, after that, will decide whether to issue a final proposal.

Where have all the fish gone?

Meanwhile, frustrated Hawke's Bay recreational fishers say they have recorded a steep decline in the amount of fish caught over the past eight years - and are blaming commercial overfishing.

A spokesperson for recreational fishing group Legasea Hawke's Bay, Brian Firman, said a ramp survey of thousands of boaties over the past eight years had shown a 45 percent decline in the number of snapper caught and a 77 percent decline in groper catches.

Mr Firman said over the same period Pania Surfcasting Club members reported a 70 percent decline in snapper catch and a 96 percent decline in gurnard from the shoreline.

These dead snapper in Hawke Bay are under 25cm each but have been legally dumped from a fishing trawler.

These dead snapper in Hawke Bay are under 25cm but have been legally dumped from a fishing trawler. Photo: SUPPLIED

The Ministry for Primary Industries has accepted recreational fishers' assertion that catches are down.


Hairy rules, tourism and courts

A report commissioned by the Napier City Council showed it made a major error estimating how many people would visit the new $18 million Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG Hawke's Bay).

The council initially estimated nearly 700,000 people would visit each year but the report showed it is more likely to be 30,000.

The council also sold its two $1 million Deco City Discoverer buses for just $50,000 after only a year in operation after their introduction as a tourist attraction proved a complete disaster.

A student at St John's College in Hastings, Lucan Battison, was suspended after refusing to cut his hair with the resulting argument going all the way to the High Court.

Lucan Battison.

Lucan Battison. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Justice Collins ruled that sanction should only be used as a last resort and the college's hair rule was unlawful because it was open to interpretation.

A strong of assault and abuse cases also made headlines over the last year. Former Havelock North Primary School music and drama teacher Charles Harter was sentenced to three years and four months in jail for indecently assaulting children, while former police officer Adam Dunnett was jailed 22 months for indecently assaulting five young women. Dunnett was off duty at the time.

Former Hawke's Bay ambulance officer Christopher King was found guilty of sexually abusing four women in the back of his ambulance, including allegations he stupefied, sexually violated and made intimate visual recordings of a 15-year-old girl while transporting her. He later pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another two girls, and was sentenced to 14-and-a-half years in prison with a minimum non-parole period of eight years.


Meanwhile, former Central Hawke's Bay mayor Hugh Hamilton was found guilty of a number of theft-related charges following the collapse of Belgrave Finance.

In sport, the Hawke's Bay Magpies won and then successfully defended the Ranfurly Shield until the end of the rugby season, locking the Log o' Wood away for the summer.

The All Blacks played in Hawke's Bay for the first time in 18 years in October and only the second time ever, not letting down a capacity crowd at McLean Park in Napier with a 28-9 win over Argentina.

Hawkes Bay's Mark Abbott with the Ranfurly Shield.

Hawkes Bay's Mark Abbott with the Ranfurly Shield. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Looking towards 2015

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council has asked the Government to take a serious look at options for reopening the Napier-Gisborne railway line to handle the increasing volume of logs and horticultural produce from the East Coast. The Government mothballed the line more than two years ago, after a storm washed out sections of track between Wairoa and Gisborne.

The fate of the Ruataniwha Dam should be decided after already running a year over the initial timeframe due to court challenges.

Hawke's Bay is also looking forward to a boost from the Cricket World Cup, with three matches scheduled to be played at McLean Park in Napier in February.

Looking forward to 2015, it will be interesting to see if the region's leaders can overcome divisive issues - such as the Ruataniwha Dam and amalgamation - to come together to find solutions to the region's poor economic performance.