With Tauranga City Council replaced by a commission, local politicos are turning their attention to the regional council this election. Who’s running to take charge of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and how do they plan to tackle the big problems facing the region?
Why is the Bay of Plenty the best place in the world?
It’s all in the name – this really is the Bay of Plenty. With long stretches of white sand and breathtaking lakes, the region is one of the warmest, driest and fastest growing in the country. More and more Aucklanders are making the short trip down permanently – but what do they find local government-wise when they make it there?
What is the contest?
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council spans an area from Tauranga and Rotorua in the west, to Ōpōtiki to the southeast, with Kawerau and Whakatāne in between. Along the way it shares responsibilities with a range of city and district councils – including the beleaguered Tauranga City Council, which was replaced with a commission after a 2019 review found the entire affair dysfunctional.
With no election for city councillors in Tauranga this time around, local politicians seem to be turning their attention to the regional council. Last election, the Tauranga constituency went uncontested – but this year, that race is the region’s most competitive, with 17 candidates running for five spots (healthy!).
The other races are less competitive affairs, with the Kohi Māori seat remaining uncontested and the other races falling somewhere in between. In total across the region, 37 contenders are vying for 14 spots across three Māori and four general constituencies.
Who is in the race?
The local elections this year are a veritable who’s who of the Bay.
In Tauranga, incumbents Stuart Crosby, Andrew von Dadelszen, Paula Thompson and David Love are running again, while Stacey Rose is calling it a day. In a farewell post on Facebook, Rose echoed recent criticism of the lack of diversity on the Tauranga line-up, abstaining from offering any endorsements. New candidates include Larry Baldock (discharged from city council in 2020), Ron Scott who’s been on the Bay of Plenty DHB, and bus driver Bryan Deucher, among others.
In the Western Bay of Plenty, incumbent Jane Nees is running again while Norm Bruning is stepping down. The other three contenders include conservationist Julian Fitter, Sean Newland and former politician Ken Shirley, whose political career is of a rare ACT and Labour Party combination.
The Eastern Bay of Plenty also has two seats, with current chairperson Doug Leeder running again while his colleague Bill Clark steps down. New faces include former police officer and kiwifruit orchardist Russell Orr, current Kawerau mayor Malcolm Campbell, Mawera Karetai, and business person Sarah Jane van der Boom.
Both incumbents in the Rotorua General Constituency, Kevin Winters and Lyall Thurston are having another go, running against lawyer Katie Priscilla Paul, Church elder and rotary Mark Gould, 26-year old student Radhika Dahya and business owner/teacher Tim Smith.
The Kohi Māori Constituency will stick with current councillor Toi Kai Rākau Iti, who is the only candidate running. Both incumbents from the Okurei and Mauao constituency, Te Taru White and Matemoana McDonald are running against Raina M Meha and Buddy Mikaere, respectively.
What is at stake?
Climate resilience and transport have dominated debates in the Bay and feature extensively in the council’s pre-election report. The majority of council hopefuls acknowledge the need for meaningful action on climate change in the face of increasing extreme weather events in a region vulnerable to droughts and sea-level rise.
In responding to this challenge, some candidates are focusing on adapting to climate change, while others emphasise the need for the Bay of Plenty to reduce emissions, according to candidates’ profiles on Policy.nz. Multiple candidates propose turning the council vehicle fleet electric.
However, a small number of candidates remain reluctant to embrace the scientific reality of climate change, instead standing on platforms opposing “unworkable climate-based policies” and “doomsday prophets.”
Transport is another high profile issue, with recent driver shortages causing havoc for the region’s would-be commuters. A recent report revealed Tauranga’s bus usage has decreased 20% in the past year.
The current council is set to confirm an ambitious target to shift 20% of urban car commuters to public transport in the next 10 years. The feasibility of this target depends significantly on who gets voted in for the coming term.
The majority of candidates propose to at least do something about transport. A handful are calling for transformational change and mode shift away from private vehicles, including by reducing or scrapping fees for public transport and improving cycling infrastructure. Others believe the council shouldn’t try to frustrate people out of cars.
The race in a sentence?
Empty buses, chocka cars and boiling shores, plenty of hopefuls go head-to-head in the race for the country’s hottest region.
The brass tracks
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council election is voted under the first past the post system. Voting papers should be with you by now. If not, you can cast a special vote. The last day to enrol (for a special vote) is October 7. Your vote needs to be received by midday on Saturday October 8. Read more race briefings and other Spinoff coverage of the local elections here.