Hamilton City Council's work to enable a new neighbourhood in the city's south is not only literally breaking ground, it's a ground-breaking example of how well-managed growth can enhance and protect nature.
The city's $290M partnership with government to open Peacocke for new housing is Hamilton's biggest investment in growth, but it's also the city's biggest investment in the environment.
Council's Growth Programmes Manager Karen Saunders, says planning for quality, sustainable growth provides an opportunity to support the natural environment.
"The environment is at the heart of everything we do," Ms Saunders says. "When Peacocke is complete it will include a multi-million-dollar investment to protect, enhance and monitor the area's biodiversity."
It might seem strange that housing development brings benefits to nature, but as Ms Saunders explains, the combination of consenting requirements, long-term planning and funding is delivering great outcomes for Peacocke's environmental treasures as the infrastructure is built.
Better environmental results also mean a better place to live for up to 20,000 people who will one day call Peacocke home, with more green space and more recreational areas.
"Peacocke is special and we want to reflect that in this neighbourhood. We have a rare opportunity to look at an entire growth cell holistically and plan for development that doesn't simply minimise impact on the local ecology, it actively improves it.
"To plan properly, we need to understand the local flora and fauna. For example, there's been a massive investment in research about our critically-endangered long-tailed bat (pekapeka-tou-roa), as we designed the Southern Links transport network in Peacocke with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
"That research programme, which included thermal imagery, acoustic monitoring and tiny radio transmitters on captured bats, added completely new information to what was previously thought about bat habitats and flight patterns for the long-tailed bat."
Among the findings was confirmation bats are roosting in man-made roosting boxes – referred to as 'bat houses' in Peacocke. This is the first time detailed recordings have been made of groups of bats using the artificial houses in Hamilton. Tracking has also shown extensive bat flight paths, including across open countryside.
"Planning for growth is a big investment. Having those funds available to invest into the environment means we can achieve things which simply would be unaffordable otherwise," Ms Saunders says.
The investment through building infrastructure for Peacocke will see 15 hectares of gully restoration, around 30 wetland areas and over 100,000 new native plants. There'll be restoration planting, installation of artificial bat roosts, and removal of weed species, while ensuring tree species suit the local conditions as well as the needs of existing wildlife.
Pest and predator control will be in place to protect the new planting, as well as reduce predation on long-tailed bats and lizards and support a flourishing native bird population. Longer-term, there'll be more money spent on monitoring wildlife behaviour supporting resident populations.
"Improving biodiversity isn't just about the trees and the bats – it's about the waterways that provide nutrition for the gully environments and aquatic life," Karen adds.
"More than 1.5km of stream restoration is planned along with stormwater management to minimise the effect of urban development on Mangakotukutuku stream and maintain its ability to provide habitat for aquatic species such as long-finned eels.
"We also have an amazing opportunity to look at how future developments can support the environment through our planning rules. We're looking at how we can tailor rules to ensure impacts from future housing developments are offset by environmental initiatives," Ms Saunders says.
"We have a vision for Peacocke to be something very different in the creation of a new neighbourhood. It's an exciting time for Hamilton and it's a game-changer for environmental restoration."