A Waikato river bustling with commuter boats, metro rail linking Hamilton, Cambridge, Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Morrinsville and Te Awamutu. Trains running to and from Hamilton airport and to the University of Waikato. That is the exciting future for the region, and it is not so far away, according to Hamilton-based Labour MP Jamie Strange.
It is a future that is already happening, with completion of the Waikato Expressway and the start of the Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail in 2020, with Mr Strange saying the sky is the limit for one of New Zealand's fastest growing regions.
As he sees it, that growth relies on the Hamilton to Auckland transport corridor, stretching 116km, which will connect what Mr Strange calls a string of pearls across the Waikato, from Cambridge in the south to Te Kauwhata, and further north.
The conversation around growth in the region sprang to life at Mr Strange's inaugural bi-monthly Grow Waikato event in March which packed Wintec's Atrium with eager residents from Hamilton and neighbouring towns.
The March meeting focused on the Hamilton to Auckland transport corridor, with guest speakers including executive director special projects for Hamilton City Council, Blair Bowcott, and CEO of Tainui Group Chris Joblin.
"During the event I discussed how over the past 18 months, myself, and the mayors from Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council, Waipa District Council, and Waikato Regional Council came together and asked what we were going to focus on," Mr Strange said.
"We decided on the bit of land between Cambridge in the south and Papakura in the north, and what development would look like in that area."
Mr Strange said that growth pressures in Auckland were causing residents to head further south to buy homes, including Te Kauwhata, and Huntly, a view shared by Waikato district councillor for Huntly, Shelley Lynch.
"Huntly's population has grown to 10,300 according Statistics NZ, up from approximately 7000 a few years ago," Ms Lynch said.
"We are getting more residents moving to Huntly from Auckland looking for more affordable real estate, smaller schools and a community atmosphere."
"Also 15 minutes drive north of Huntly is Ohinewai which has potential for expansion with business interests being investigated in the area which will create jobs which a Huntly labour force could supply."
Mr Strange is fizzing when talking about the idea of a metro rail which would link Hamilton with its closest neighbours, including Cambridge, Huntly and Morrinsville.
"There are already tracks in Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Te Awamutu, Morrinsville, and in Cambridge, where we would have an extra one kilometre there to extend that into the town's CBD," Mr Strange said.
"The track also goes through the Ruakura inland port, east of Hamilton, so there is a possibility at some stage for a station there to service the university, and then we
The biggest untapped potential in the region, according to Mr Strange, is cultural tourism.
He said the that there is the opportunity to have a tour starting from Auckland, which will take tourists to Meremere to see the old Waikato battle sites, before carrying on down to Ngaruawahia to visit the Maori King's residence, from there tourists will head to Hamilton to visit the Waikato Museum, before finishing their journey south in Te Awamutu, visiting a marae.
Mr Strange will discuss this at his third Grow Waikato event later in the year.IT sector booming
For the second year, the Waikato was ranked the fastest growing tech region in New Zealand in the Technology Investment Network (TIN) report, recording $119 million regional revenue growth among its top tech companies in 2018, the largest revenue growth rate in the country at 16.3 per cent.
MP Jamie Strange says the IT sector is one of the Waikato's most untapped potential, mentioning companies such as CompanyX and Nyriad who are based in the region and have turned the Waikato into the 'Silicon Valley' of New Zealand.
Running 20-26 May Waikato Techweek19 is being led by Te Waka, Waikato's regional economic development agency, in partnership with CultivateIT, Waikato's IT industry group.
This year's Waikato Tech Week theme is 'innovation that is good for the world' with events designed to showcase local tech capability with a global impact scheduled across the region in Hamilton, Raglan, Thames, North and South Waikato and Cambridge.also want a track to Hamilton Airport.
Mr Strange said he wants the metro-rail plan to begin to gather speed next year, with it currently listed as both a short-term, and medium-term goal in the corridor plan which has been endorsed by all the councils.
"Rail workshops were closed in Dunedin by the previous government, so rail is starting from a low base and it is going to take some time to build up, but it will lead to apprenticeships and we can finally start building carriages ourselves, and it will create jobs that will help our economy."
"The whole industry needs to be revived, and the time to do that is now."
He said while that while no costing has been done yet for the different projects, the Urban Development Authority(UDA), which the Government launched last year, will work with the private sector to ease infrastructure costs off city rates.
The UDA aims to work with local councils to lead the Government's large-scale urban development projects and for being a world class state housing landlord.
"The corridor is basically getting ahead of the curve when it comes to planning."
In the corridor plan, there are rough descriptions of where future water and waste treatment plants would need to be, as well as outlining growth areas and what kind of residential development could take place.
Mr Strange said that the Southern Links highway which will connect with Hamilton in the new suburbs of Peacocke, is still under way, and could start in the next four years.
"It's just all about giving a diverse range of transportation to the people of this region."
The next Grow Waikato events will look at construction projects that have already started around the region, with guest speakers including Leonard Gardner from Fosters Construction and Hamilton developer Matt Stark.
Mr Strange said he will also discuss the region's booming IT sector, and how cultural tourism is one of the Waikato's most untapped potential.
Despite the enthusiasm of Mr Strange, there remain doubters that rail will succeed in New Zealand with National MP for Hamilton East David Bennett a firm believer that it is too early for rail.
Hamilton city councillor Garry Mallett also has been opposing the Hamilton to Auckland light rail, saying the costs do not justify the passenger demand.