Robinson Report: Early Christmas for some in Waikato

By Reihana Robinson, Geoffrey

Santa works in mysterious ways in the Waikato. Christmas has come early for some of the region's biggest players, while ordinary residents have been finding their wish lists largely ignored.

Let's start here in Hamilton, where Santa contracted out his big-ticket gift delivery business to Hamilton City Council in the form of its proposed district plan - notified this week.

The lucky pair are property developers Tainui Group Holdings and Chedworth Properties, who together will realise hundreds of millions of dollars in appreciated land values when the plan becomes operational, as a result of rezoning their Ruakura properties to allow an inland port and truck-rail freight hub and a raft of associated retail, service and residential developments.

Despite the failure of HCC and Waikato Regional Council to undertake any comprehensive environmental, economic and social impact study for the massively transformational industrial development, Santa has given the project a free pass, based solely on the promises and forecasts of those positioned to profit.

The people most directly affected by Santa's gift - a group of property owners whose homes and land will be permanently degraded by the industrial development - have been passed over.

Asking only for limited protections from the 24-7 noise and light pollution, the group has been stymied in its modest requests for a 4m high bunding, or embankment, and an appropriate buffer area around their properties.

So far, TGH and HCC have refused to consider this fair and reasonable stocking stuffer.

Meanwhile, across the Waikato in Waihi, rattled locals already have experience with 24-7 heavy industry near their homes.

Santa touched down early at Newmont Mining headquarters last month with Environment Court approval of new exploratory drilling under the existing Martha Mine open pit permit area.

Newmont's big gift request, however, is its pending application to drill and blast directly underneath hundreds of homes in Waihi East. Consent hearings at Hauraki District Council started last week on the company's Correnso Underground Proposal. A majority of submissions in favour are from out of the Waihi area, while the large majority of submitters in opposition are locals. With Santa's strong ties and a history of gift-giving to Newmont (the world's second largest gold producer), the most that distressed locals can expect are minor limits and conditions on blasting hours.

Back in Cambridge, Santa gave final approval last winter for a $6m stocking stuffer to velodrome developers and the elite New Zealand sports fraternity. With Saint Nick's cash gift safely down the chimney and construction under way, cycling promoters have started bagging a host of other new sponsorships, grants and deals.

Each and every Waikato ratepayer will be sending moe than $60 to cover Santa's largesse, but so far velodrome backers have offered little in the way of thanks. A $60 voucher to the new Velodrome Caf (billed as "a healthy dining experience' for every Waikato ratepayer-donor would be appropriate.

Another popular Waikato not-for-profit, the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust, also celebrated Christmas early when WRC voted $2.2m of additional ratepayer cash in its latest long-term plan. For a party favour, WRC chipped in an extra $37,500 bonus for MEIT's recent pay-per-view kakapo promotion.

Earlier this week, in a committee meeting at Waipa District Council, MEIT general manager Malcolm Anderson asked Santa for more. MEIT is applying for a "trial" concession to sell guided walking tours over the entire mountain, starting this summer, and isn't being too bashful to ask that all standard concession fees be waived and public notification not be required. Currently, tours are offered at no charge.

Since the Waikato public has been paying millions for years to support the cash-strapped conservation project, the least the public could expect from Mr Anderson and MEIT trustees would be a small token gift in return. A suggestion for Santa is that Waikato ratepayers, who are responsible for the project's financial survival, be given complimentary tickets for guided tours on the mountain they have been paying to protect. This polite gift would not cost MEIT one cent.

In his report to WDC on Wednesday, Anderson also revealed that a 'Secret Santa' could be on the way to MEIT. It turns out MEIT trustees have been in quiet talks with none other than mega-millionaire merchant banker Sir Michael Fay 'over his interest in the project and potential role he might play in facilitating funding opportunities'.

This is the best news for Waikato ratepayer budgets. With an estimated net worth of $790m, Fay's image could be improved if he comes through with a sleigh-full of cash.

And a Merry, Merry Christmas to all!

Geoffrey and Reihana Robinson are organic Coromandel farmers and ratepayers who take more than a passing interest in environmental issues and local politics. Their columns reflect their opinions. To approve or disapprove of their opinions contact:


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