A day in the life of a zone manager - putting people first

“Saving the world one day at a time” is what Kevin Heays often tells others of his job as Hurunui-Waiau and Kaikoura Zone manager.

Kevin Heays Zone Manager for Hurunui-Waiau and KaikouraThe new position, which Kevin began in October 2015, is part of a move to start implementing on-the-ground actions around water management based on the goals of the local water zone committees.

“When it really comes down to it, it’s about relationships – be there to help people, to advise people, and be proactive rather than reactive. That’s my biggest aim.”

Kevin is no stranger to working in the community. He began his career as a school teacher, working largely in small communities before buying a Kaikoura pub which he managed for 13 years. It was during this time he decided to run for Kaikoura mayor.

He served as two terms before deciding not to seek re-election around the time the Government reviewed Environment Canterbury’s governance in 2009.

“Those were the days where you got a visit, a letter, a bill and practically nothing else. We certainly joined the movement of trying to make the regional council become a people’s council.”

Kevin credits Dame Margaret, the commissioners and chief executive for making the changes.

“Consequently, that whole process-driven regional council started to change direction into a people-driven one. There’s been a few hiccups along the way, but its 99 percent better than what it was.”

Following his time as mayor, Kevin ended up joining the regional council as its Kaikoura manager. The issues he had experienced with Environment Canterbury during his time as mayor was exactly what he was now able to work towards fixing.

“I knew I could change my community’s attitude towards ECan and ECan’s attitude towards my community,” he says.

The first thing he changed was the community’s accessibility to ECan’s resources and expertise. He ensured he followed up on people’s complaints the same day they were received, and made sure people knew they could pop into the office anytime for advice or help with their consents.

This change did not go unnoticed by the Kaikoura community.

“A significant moment was after I had been in the job for a wee while, I’d walk into the pub and people would yell out ‘Who can?’ and they’d reply to themselves ‘ECan’. That went on for a couple of weeks. You sort of felt accepted.”

While taking on the zone manager position for Kaikoura was a natural transition for Kevin, entering the Hurunui-Waiau Zone with no previous association to the area meant he had to work hard to establish a relationship with the community.

“I understandably have to prove myself. It’s their territory not mine. They’ve lived here for generations and I live over the hill. But if you explain that straight away, people are pretty good about it.”

Already, Kevin believes he’s had some good wins in the Hurunui-Waiau Zone, such as working with people to find solutions to longtime issues such as the debate over opening the Waipara River mouth to mitigate flooding and issues between lifestyle block owners and farmers.

“But the key to it is you can’t do it on your own.

“You’ve got to get the landowners, the district councils, all the stakeholders involved. You just can’t do it on your own. It’s just impossible. Everyone needs to be in on the game.”

Being proactive rather than reactive, and making the effort to meet with people is the key to success in the position.

“All problems can be solved over a farm gate or a cup of tea. You can save the world doing that,” he says.

The most rewarding part of the job has been seeing how proactive farmers are in protecting waterways through fencing or riparian planting.

“They’ve done it themselves because they want to. That’s just fantastic and they’ve been doing it for years – they just don’t skite about it.”

Kevin’s also noticed an increase in farmers asking how they too can ‘get on the bandwagon’ and protect the water.

“That’s great. That’s a new thing. It’s probably always been on their mind but now they can see the value in doing it.

“Their eyes have never been closed, but perhaps they’ve just taken the sunglasses off. It is really rewarding.”

So what would ultimate success look like?

“For the zone team – being out of work would be the ultimate. I don’t think that’s going to happen in my lifetime, but I think we’re getting there – I really do.”