A transformational new plan considers the long-term future of the Hamilton-Waikato metro area without the limitations of existing territorial boundaries, possibly forming the Waikato into a super region with Hamilton as the hub.
Last week, iwi, local government and central government approved a joint approach to planning for the future of the Hamilton-Waikato metro area for the first time. The Hamilton-Waikato Metropolitan Spatial Plan is based on a scenario of 500,000 people living in the metro area, extending from Taupiri in the north to Te Awamutu and Cambridge in the south.
Proposals such as the Hamilton Metro Rail plan, a commuter rail service between Hamilton and its outlining towns are part of the overall metro spatial plan, while also how best to manage the region's water infrastructure.
Minister for Urban Development Phil Twyford said this is a major milestone for urban development in New Zealand.
"It's the first time that mana whenua, local and central government have jointly developed a plan for growing a city. By co-ordinating the planning and building of housing, transport and other supporting infrastructure, we're setting the region up to prosper," Twyford said.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said the plan was the first time all partners have set out a shared vision for the metro area.
"In that respect, it is transformational because we are not being artificially limited by what are essentially boundary lines on a map. Those lines are meaningless to most people who move seamlessly across boundaries for work or play. It's not unusual to live in Waipā, but work in Hamilton, for example, and we need to recognise and plan for that," she said.
Hamilton plays a key role in linking the strong economic corridor from Ngaruawahia to Ruakura that will support many jobs in the metro area, building on its strengths with rapid and frequent transport networks as well as significant walking and cycling infrastructure.
Waikato-Tainui Te Arataura chairwoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen said she was a strong supporter of the plan's commitment to the wellbeing of our awa, environment, culture and people.
"We have more than 30 marae in the metro area. This plan supports our continued investment in the wellbeing of our marae and tribal members and builds on recently announced projects at Ruakura and Hopuhopu. This is an inter-generational approach to ensure shared prosperity for both our people and the region."
Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington said the plan outlines a bold vision of protecting what we value most and respecting natural constraints such as flood plains and elite soils.
"The concept of a blue-green network is a fundamental part of this plan. It's an ambitious vision for an enhanced network of green space for people and the environment, which is a fundamental aspect of how the area will develop with the Waikato River. The plan also marks a real shift in thinking about transport. It reflects the importance of designing our urban areas and providing services that make public transport, walking and cycling people's preferred way of getting around.
While a lot of capacity for future growth is expected to be serviced by Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Cambridge and Te Awamutu are also expected to benefit from significant growth.
Waikato mayor Allan Sanson said there's a real opportunity to address growth and related infrastructure challenges in the area at scale in a sustainable way with sound environmental outcomes.
"We've seen the impact of growth in other regions when it is not planned for well. We want to make sure we're investing in infrastructure such as water services and public transport in the right places now to support future development in those key areas.
"I am particularly pleased with the recognition that the plan gives to the interconnected nature of communities within the Waikato and Waipā districts to Hamilton. There is an opportunity to enhance this through future transport corridors including rapid transit, frequent transit and feeder routes."
Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest said unlocking development potential in this way will create efficiencies and greater economic opportunities for Waipā and will allow cross-regional facilities, such as the Hamilton Airport, to flourish.
"The need to integrate services and plan properly goes beyond a single council's boundary, and it has never been more important than right now as Waipā, Waikato and Hamilton face rapidly growing populations. This plan will help Waipā, and the wider metro area, to create champion communities that meet our sub-region's future needs in a sustainable and co-ordinated approach."
The new Metro Spatial Plan lays out a vision for our region and is a fantastic first step towards amalgamation, according to Waikato Chamber of Commerce executive director Don Good.
"We know that our political leaders may protest the use of the word amalgamation, but this new plan sets out a vision, and how it will integrate and develop in the coming decades. It's a marvellous political move," Good said.