Over the last few days, I delved into the lengthy tome that is the Hamilton City Council 2018-2028 10-Year Plan, the council’s long-term budget for the next ten years. It’s already become a hot topic in the city, mainly due to the 15.5% rates increase in the first year.
In this process of long-term planning, mayors have executive powers to lead the development of strategy and policy, which informs the document that staff put together for the council to debate. However, to go out for public consultation, the draft plan needs the majority support of the council.
Are the majority of Hamilton’s city councillors likely to support the plan in its current form? Highly unlikely! The council meetings over the next few days are likely to be very divisive.
It will take more than a single blog post to give this topic justice, so for now, I have prepared a ‘winners and losers’ of Mayor Andrew King’s draft budget. I will go into more policy detail once we can see the draft version of the 10 Year Plan that has the support of the majority of councillors.
This is no means an exhaustive list of everything covered in the draft 10-Year Plan. It’s a brief summary barely scratching the surface. Be sure to use the comments section to highlight your thoughts on the proposals so far!
A few of the winners in the budget
Victoria Street land and building owners
One of the surprise announcements in the plan is the proposed extension of the Victoria On The River public space, linking the new park with Embassy Park. I am surprised to see this being included, as it will not help the Mayor’s narrative about the rates rise being required to balance the books. Seems an unnecessary way to burn some serious political capital.
The building owners and developers will be happy with its inclusion, but I can’t see it making it into the final 10-Year Plan. It will be harder to justify than many of the other projects being considered.
City growth is a major focus of this draft 10-Year Plan, and the Peacocke landowners and developers will be thrilled that there is finally a real focus on the southern part of the city. I think the Council will favour a no-frills approach to unlocking Peacockes for development.
If you haven’t read it yet, one of my previous blog posts, The Tale of the Peacocke and the Two Bennetts, calls about the growth cell that is featured heavily in this draft 10-Year Plan.
After many years of underfunding renewals and maintenance, this budget looks in a much better state for dealing with ageing council-owned buildings and assets. Of course, this doesn’t come cheap and it is a contributor to the proposed double-digit rates increase, but after seeing the closure of Founders Theatre, the Central Library and some of the urgent work required at Waterworld, it is good to see better budgeting to ‘look after what we already have’.
It’s politically challenging to advocate for rates rises that don’t offer new services to the community, but I’m glad there is a real focus on this. It is vital so we avoid any future incidents like the closure of community facilities that are entirely preventable if we adequately budget for their maintenance.
Hamilton City Council staff on a lower wage
According to a March 2017 information request, Hamilton City Council has approximately 280 staff that earn less than $20 an hour. The draft 10-Year Plan recommends the introduction of a $20 minimum wage for Hamilton City Council staff (20c shy of the current recommended living wage).
Many of these staff play important roles in our city, and it’s great to the living wage being discussed again. I hope to see provision for this in the final 10-Year Plan document, especially seeing many candidates supported the introduction of a living wage during the 2016 local government elections.
There’ll be a lot of focus on the proposed entry fee for out-of-town residents, but after reading the budget details I’m excited about what is proposed for investment in Hamilton Gardens. The draft 10-Year proposed that $18 million is budgeted for the development of 13 new gardens and associated infrastructure. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the long-term planning for Hamilton Gardens – it is stunning and it’ll be transformational for the city.
From what I’ve read, I don’t think the business case stacks up for charging out of town visitors, so I’d prefer to see this paid from general or targeted rates rather than introducing a potential major deterrent for visitors. In a couple of years, the Waikato Expressway will bypass Hamilton. We need everything we can to keep visitors staying in Hamilton for longer periods of time. I’m more than happy for Hamilton Gardens to be a ‘loss-leader’ for the benefit of the wider city economy.
I don’t think the entrance fee will make it into the final plan, but I hope proper investment in Hamilton Gardens continues.
Rototuna and Flagstaff residents
Finally – some community facilities for the north-east of the city. Residents in Rototuna and Flagstaff have missed out on a lot of development that took place in older parts of the city as those suburbs were developed. There are quite a few undeveloped parks and open spaces in Rototuna due to budget constraints, and despite all of the growth in that part of the city, there hasn’t been any library or community hub… until now. The draft 10-Year Plan proposes $20 million of funding towards a new community hub that includes a library and community meeting spaces. This would be built alongside a new Rototuna Town Centre around Borman Road and North City Road.
A few of the losers in the budget
At a time when tourism is booming in New Zealand, I think it is an ill-informed and particularly cruel idea to disband our visitor centre and make the team redundant. The i-SITE team do a great job supporting approximately 43,000 tourists and visitors per year. I can’t understand why this is even being considered, and I doubt it’ll make it through to the final 10-Year Plan. In the meantime, I really feel for the staff that will have six months of job uncertainty while having to put on a brave face every day – kia kaha, team!
Less computer-savvy Hamiltonians
One of the service-cut proposals is the print copy of City News, the Hamilton City Council publication that goes out to most households in the city. Mayor King was very opposed to City News in the previous council term, so this proposal is no surprise. It’s all very well to propose a digital version of the publication, but this will negatively affect Hamiltonians that don’t have computer access – particularly older residents.
I think the real value of City News comes from the way it can publicise all the ways that the community can engage with the council on public consultation. City News will be invaluable for keeping Hamiltonians updated over the next six months throughout the 10-Year Plan process. I would really question the value of going to an online-only platform.
Mayor King is fundamentally opposed to zoos for ethical reasons so it will be no surprise that there is no proposed development from the recently approved Zoo Master Plan. However, I think it’s particularly harsh that the draft 10-Year Plan also includes increases to admission fees without any changes to the Hamilton Zoo offering. The Zoo often gets overlooked when it comes to investment, it’s a pity there isn’t any longer-term funding towards some of the Zoo Master Plan projects, especially the glamping proposal.
The new proposal in the draft 10-Year Plan is to abandon the popular destination playground plan that has been rolled out over the last few years, replacing it with a much smaller neighbourhood playground budget. I don’t have children so this proposal doesn’t affect me personally, however many people I know with young children have raved about the destination playgrounds that have been built recently, and there has been a preference to consolidate funding on larger scale destination playground rather than lots of little playgrounds in neighbourhood parks. Strategically, I think this would be the wrong direction to take playground development, and I expect there could be some strong public opposition to this change.
Most of the big-ticket items in the Waikato Museum Strategic Plan haven’t made the cut in the draft 10-Year Plan. I think this is a major shame and it does concern me that the council is not willing to adequately fund future development of our museum, especially the feature exhibition with the working title of ‘Waikato Te Awa’ that currently sits in the unfunded section of the plan. This is not superfluous funding, this is critical to ensure the museum continues to offer a good visitor experience.
Councillors should remember that museums and libraries are legally classed as a core service of local councils in New Zealand. We are lucky to have institutions like Waikato Museum but we should stop treating investment in our museum as low priority.
Pooches and Parks
Pooches and Parks is a great, largely unimplemented plan to make some of our city’s public spaces more dog-friendly. The draft 10-Year Plan throws most of the projects in the bin and allows for one fenced dog area in the next ten years. Like the destination playgrounds programme, this is another example of community infrastructure that is inadequately funded.
River Plan investment is barely featured in the 10-Year Plan. This is no surprise, as Andrew King was opposed to just about all River Plan investment during the last council term.
I think that’s a real shame seeing the lack of investment in delivering the River Plan, especially because I’d much rather see the pedestrian footbridge constructed for $20 million rather than Mayor King’s building-bowling park extension proposal that could cost as much as $43 million.
I expect there will be a number of councillors that will strongly advocate for a few of the River Plan projects to go into the draft plan when it goes out for public consultation. This could be a contentious area for many councillors.
My day job
As some of you may know, I used to work as a strategic advisor to Hamilton City Council for five years. It is refreshing to have a public voice again and the opportunity to support and oppose council initiatives as they are made public.
I recently started up my own business called Dorrington Wright – a consultancy focused on strategic planning and business improvement. If you want to keep up to speed on the 10-Year Plan but don’t have time to read the 386 page document and the numerous council briefing presentations, never fear!
Dorrington Wright is available for presentations to your company / organisation, breaking down the key points of the draft plan, and most importantly … making sure you know the process for having your say as the plan develops over the next six months. As I mentioned earlier, this blog post barely scratches the surface on what the draft 10-Year Plan covers.
The presentations are customised to focus on the areas that matter most to your organisation. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 021 362 988 for more information.
Title photo credit – Hamilton & Waikato Tourism