14 Oct 2013

Shift in balance of power on Hawke's Bay Regional Council

3:36 pm on 14 October 2013

The balance of power has shifted on the Hawke's Bay Regional Council with three candidates promoted by the Growers Action Group being elected and a fourth likely to gain a seat.

The election result means there will be a new group of councillors who have been critical of a lack of information on the Ruataniwha Dam proposal.

The Growers Action Group, which was angry about the council's water-management policies during last summer's drought, staged a tractor protest and billboard campaign to unseat councillors.

Three of its preferred candidates have been elected, and a fourth, Tom Bedford, a leading critic of the dam, has overtaken the incumbent councillor Kevin Rose after late votes were counted.

On Saturday, Mr Rose led Tom Belford by 16 votes, but after about 700 late votes were counted Mr Belford now has a 46-vote lead. Returning officer Carol Gilbertson says it is unlikely that the result will change, but a final result can't be declared until Wednesday when up to 100 special votes are counted.

The new nine-member regional council will vote next year on whether to proceed with the $600 million water storage project, provided it gets resource consent from the Board of Inquiry currently considering it.

Fenton Wilson, who chaired the council in the previous term, says it was one of the first times Hawke's Bay has seen a big money campaign and it did influence the outcome.

But says the new councillors are talented, and he thinks the council will be able to debate the issues and make good decisions.

Mr Wilson says the new councillors will have much reading to do to get up-to-speed with the proposed $600 million Ruataniwha water storage project.