The advisory group conundrum

Pete Hodgson
Pete Hodgson
Pete Hodgson must have known he was in for a fight when he agreed to lead the Dunedin Hospital rebuild.

The former Dunedin North Labour MP and cabinet minister is not averse to getting his hands dirty on projects that mean a lot to him, and the hospital rebuild will be one of those which ticks both boxes: this will be a personal project to Mr Hodgson and he will need to get his hands dirty managing the process.

On Wednesday, Mr Hodgson took the first step in exercising his authority on the project, appointing an advisory group to provide local government, iwi and transportation advice.

As expected, there was immediate reaction, and not all of it was complimentary.

First, regional mayors sought an assurance their voices will be heard on the rebuild.

Secondly, there is no business representation on the advisory group. Whether the councillors and staff from the Dunedin City Council, Otago Regional Council, New Zealand Transport Agency and Ngai Tahu give a fair representation on the advisory board is yet to be tested.

Those seeking to oppose Mr Hodgson’s views better get used to receiving some very frank appraisals of their chances. As chairman of the Southern Partnership Group, Mr Hodgson will have enormous power over the future of the rebuild. There are huge expectations from the region of the Labour-led Government delivering on this project. Health Minister David Clark is from Dunedin and replaced Mr Hodgson in the Dunedin North electorate. This can be seen as personal for both men.

There seems no logical reason for councillors to be included on the advisory board, although specialised staff will be helpful in specific areas.

Whether a regional mayor, like Queenstown’s Jim Boult — who fits the bill as a successful businessman and a popular mayor — would be a better appointment should be one of the discussion points.

Labour has an aversion to dealing with business people and it is more likely a trade union representative will be appointed before the Otago Chamber of Commerce. A public-private partnership has been ruled out but that is no reason to not include business representation on such an important economic project to the city and region.

Jobs will be created from this project and skilled labour will be employed, probably bringing in new workers and their families to the city.

There needs to be a reasonable expectation from the community at large of Mr Hodgson’s abilities. He was, after all, a top-ranked minister under former prime minister Helen Clark. His strength was not only as a minister but as a "doer and fixer".

Pushing him into a corner will not help the rebuild. Consultation does need to happen but spreading the net far and wide will only hinder the project, not help it.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher urging Mr Hodgson to remember Dunedin Hospital serviced the whole region seems unnecessary. Mr Hodgson was a minister of health and will know the importance of health to this region.

It is inevitable Ngai Tahu will be part of any consultation group, and no-one will be surprised by that inclusion. But packing an advisory group full of people with limited knowledge and vested interests is not the way to play this.

Hopefully, Mr Hodgson will start to weed out the less than helpful elements of the group as time passes. Labour has always been a party of consultation, even when faster decisions are called for. With  Dunedin Hospital being in such a so-called state of disrepair, urgency is required.

Having an advisory group of medical specialists and advisers, architects, designers and construction experts seems a logical mix, along with roading, transport, some civil and business representatives.

If, as Mr Hodgson says, the project will have an impact on the CBD of Dunedin for several generations, having a planning advisory group to deal with the impact makes sense.

Having the best possible hospital built in Dunedin will serve the regions just as well as it does city residents. Surely, this is obvious.

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