The best way for Hamilton to thrive is to invest in growth and reduce red tape to make it easier for that growth to occur.
Since I was elected as a Hamilton City councillor in 2013, I have endeavoured to consistently support the making of wise decisions and investments that will help our city grow and continue to be a great place to raise families, operate businesses and live.
I am standing for Mayor of Hamilton. Hamilton needs a mayor who is not afraid to stand up for truth and fight for what is right for our city. I am committed to do that. As well as running for Mayor, I am also standing for the West Ward as a Hamilton City Councillor.
In my time as a councillor, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the deputy chair of the Strategy & Policy Committee and as a member of the council-controlled Organisations Committee, Finance Committee, Business & Investment Sub-Committee and also as Chair of the Libraries Review and the Beale Historical Cottage Review.
I know this sounds simplistic but we need to get a lot more parking into the central part of the CBD. The additional parking has to be planned in line with the expected future vehicle trends, and has to make sufficient short-term parking available for shoppers and restaurant guests. The introduction of Smart Meters is one possible workable solution. This system will automatically record when you pulled into a park and when you leave, and charge for parking accordingly – ideally with the first hour free and then a rising additional charge for every subsequent hour to discourage inner city residents and workers from parking in prime spots all day. The smart parking system has been allowed for in Council’s budget and I understand it is being installed within the next 12 months.
Another option I believe is worth considering is to bring back angle parking in the CBD, which would provide a lot more car parks. That’s how it used to be when I was younger, and there were no parking problems in town back then. I understand there are some safety considerations related to angle parking that will need to be carefully thought through, but I’m sure there must be a way to make it work. After all, the CBD is a 30 km/h zone so traffic is moving through there quite slowly.
Turning around the Council’s decision to allow mobile shops into the central city was a battle worth winning for me. To allow a mobile shop to set up in the vicinity of a competitor when they don’t pay rates, rent or insurance would be an unfair business practice that won’t now happen in the Central Business District. Also, it seemed petty to force restaurants to change the size of their street furniture, after years of it being a bigger size. I struggled to understand the logic of this and encouraged other councillors to allow the street furniture to stay the same size. The outcome of my advocating to keep street furniture the same size is that restaurant owners don’t have to bear the cost of replacing or modifying their furniture. Thankfully my colleagues also saw the sense of this and overturned the proposal.
Campaigning to ensure that the sinking lid policy on pokies becomes far more effective is important to me, even though this issue has not yet been resolved. It would not be right for someone who has built their business under existing by-laws to jeopardise their business by losing their right to have pokie machines. These businesses should have grandfather rights. However, I am opposed to pokie machines being able to be moved from one site to another. By stopping this we would have a true sinking lid policy meaning that when a venue no longer was viable the pokie machines couldn’t be moved to another location. The overall number of pokie machines would then be reduced over time.
To introduce a one-way door policy in the central city’s bars between 2am and 3am, in line with what the police had asked for, made common sense to me. Setting reasonable parameters around the hours alcohol is sold is the best way to decrease harm. A majority of my colleagues did not support my proposal. I tried and failed to introduce a one-way door policy.
Everyone needs to take some responsibility around alcohol. The police with enforcement, the medical profession with caring for the hurt, the night shelter staff and those helping people recover from addiction, the manufacturers with responsible advertising, and last – but certainly not least – the policy makers, which in this case is Hamilton City Council, setting the rules around the hours that alcohol can be sold.
A one-way door policy means that if someone is evicted from a bar, or leaves of their own accord after 2am they can’t go into any other bar. This makes it easy for the police to clear trouble makers out of town before thousands of other people pour onto the streets at 3am closing.
Contrary to popular belief I am not opposed to the Ferrybank being developed as a premium park, with community facilities included. The Ferrybank Development Plan, if completed, will reflect a Council brief to transform the riverbank precinct into the city’s premier waterfront destination. Enhancing this area or developing it into a premium park may have some merit but the redevelopment plan, which includes offices and residential apartments on the Ferrybank reserve, is another matter. I am against the building of a potentially five storey apartment block that is proposed to go on this Reserve Land, blocking the view from Victoria Street to the river, and I’m fighting to have the apartment block removed from the proposal. The construction of a five storey apartment block would clearly commercialise an area that was put into reserve by our forefathers to protect it from that very thing. Someone has to stand for what is right in this matter. It is my duty to not sit idly by and let land covered by the Reserve Act be sacrificed on the altar of commercialisation. Just imagine if Auckland Council announced plans to put apartments and office blocks in the Auckland Domain. There would be a national outcry! Even the commercialisation of the Auckland waterfront had some strong opposition and that area wasn’t even a reserve. It was under the control of the Harbour Board, a recognised commercial entity. So, why should we allow our protected Ferrybank reserve to be commercialised in Hamilton?
A park on the Council-owned old Waikato Times land on the river’s edge opposite Collingwood Street, makes more sense to me. It would not only provide a lovely park area but would connect Victoria Street to the river. This will regain the opportunity lost when the BNZ building was built by Council and the Post Office building turned into a casino instead of being used to connect Garden Place through to the river. Redevelopment of the centrally-located Victoria on the River park will enhance the vibrancy of the city centre and the properties around it much more effectively than the Ferrybank Project, which will, due to its distance, further dilute the viability of the Central Business District.
It just doesn’t make sense to build a walking bridge where Wairere Drive is planned to connect with Cobham Drive at a cost of several million dollars. The plan for this road is for it to eventually continue via a road bridge to open up the Peacockes area, which will make the walking bridge obsolete. Why not do this ahead of time and save our City millions of dollars? This temporary walking bridge is still being considered.
One of my biggest disappointments in this Council term was to see Council’s Senior Elected Members endeavour to sell our Pensioner Housing to a tender that was three million dollars less than the one that was finally accepted. This was led by the chair of the Finance Committee who put up a motion to accept the lower offer. Council staff recommended that the councillor’s and the Mayor accept the higher offer and confirmed that the creditability of the two charitable trusts were similar. The reason given for the attempt to sell at the hugely reduced price by one member was that they knew people on the Board of the lower offer. This was rate payer’s money and thank goodness there were just enough members who saw through what was going on and accepted the higher offer.
Mayor Julie Hardaker and other councillors who promised or implied at the last election not to increase debt, had an about face in the middle of their term and voted to increase debt by a further one hundred million dollars above where the debt was at the time. This was another disappointment.
Projects were voted in during this Council term that have no budget allowed for them in the 10-Year Plan. We now have a pretty picture book of plans for projects like the Frankton Plan, the Hamilton East Plan and about 10 other Plans that all look great and indicate we are making progress when, in fact, nothing can be done as no funding has been allocated to fulfil these plans.
Supporting well thought out spending and taking on the right amount of debt for the right reasons is a vital part of running a city. However, we need to focus our debt capacity on important activities and projects that will contribute to Hamilton’s prosperity and growth in the best possible way. With new communities we need amenities. That’s what makes Hamilton city a place to be proud of and a great place to live.
A key priority is to invest in subdivision infrastructure to make more sections available to grow our city and rates base. Councillors may think they’ve done well because the books appear to be in order, but the way that was done was very short-sighted. The Council stopped spending on infrastructure five years ago and now there are no green field sections available in Hamilton. So, if we were a manufacturer our bank balance and financial books might look good but we have no product to sell. Council started spending on infrastructure again about 12 months ago but it takes several years of planning and investment for zoned land to be transformed from farmland to a section ready to be built on.
Hamilton City Council and at least one Council member who is running for Mayor are claiming that there are 3500 developer ready sections available in Hamilton. This claim is a bit misleading as it suggests that these sections are ready to be built on, when in fact they are not. While it is true that Council has provided the services required for these sections to be made available, the developer still has more work to do before these sections can be titled and ready to build on. The current reality is that there are almost no green field sections ready to be built on in Hamilton at the moment. This fact can easily be confirmed by asking a real estate agent who specialises in section sales.
We have a critical shortage of sections right now in this current time of high demand, which has contributed to pushing section and house prices up by about $200,000 over the last two years. It is rumoured that the next titled release of about 75 sections in Rotokauri at the beginning of 2017 will be priced close to $500,000. This makes me hugely concerned for first time house buyers in Hamilton. I will do everything I can to open up the Peacockes area, which has a potential of 8000 sections.
My 30 years of business experience has taught me that when a business runs into bad weather or a storm you either cut back on overheads and the level of services provided, or you invest in growth to increase income, which applies equally to council. We need to get a better bang for our buck so to speak. A commitment to grow Hamilton must embrace these principles and right now it’s the growth area that needs the investment. The growth we need to invest in is planning and releasing land for subdivision by having our infrastructure in place to allow that to happen.
Each new green fields section brings in development contributions to Council of about $30 000 along with ongoing rates of several thousand dollars per annum per section. This income allows Council to pay for the required infrastructure to keep our city running. This is our core responsibility and helps grow our economy.
My stand on this issue is reflected in central Government endorsing this strategy with a $1 billion interest free loan available and Hamilton being singled out as a likely recipient. We must move wisely and positively on this issue. It will take time for our current investment in infrastructure to flow through to alleviate the housing shortage in this high time of growth.
We need to reduce red tape to allow positive growth to occur. We have a new District Plan that is the most restrictive plan in the history of our city. We need to go through this plan and get rid of some of the rules to make it easier to do business.
I am concerned at the number of building consents, particularly for residential development, which are being held up due to planning approval requirements. This is especially concerning when the required planning approval appears to be little more than a formality but adds extra time and cost to the people applying for the building consents. These people are often families on limited budgets, wanting to improve their homes. I intend to review the planning provisions to determine how we can make the consenting process more cost efficient and faster, while still ensuring that the environment and the neighbours of the people applying for consents will still be adequately protected.
For larger complex proposals, I would like to introduce a one-stop shop system with an assigned Council project manager for each large project. This will help reduce red tape, compliance costs and delays in getting projects underway. Similar support should also be available for smaller developers who request assistance with building consents.
I would also like to see a review of building consents for the last few years to determine what the issues are and what is causing the hold ups. That will help us identify and action efficient solutions to improve our processes.
During my whole time serving Hamilton city as a councillor I have not claimed any council-related expenses. While I have been rightfully entitled to do that, I have chosen to absorb these costs myself as part of my commitment to invest my business success in our city. Whilst I personally take this stand, I understand that not every member may be able to do this. Individual members need to determine what is appropriate for them when it comes to claiming costs, as long as there is no personal advantage and they are legally entitled to claim those costs.
Transparency and accountability in all aspects of Council, including recording the costs associated with councillors using the Council’s corporate box (Clarke Lounge) at FMG Waikato Stadium is important to me, as no doubt it is to you. The Council having a corporate box for hosting and promoting our city is not the issue – but having it on the books is. It’s taken more than two years to get my resolution through council (which has been voted down in the past) and one can’t help thinking that the passing of this resolution must have been prompted by the pending election.
I have no doubt that incorporating transparency, accountability and truth into every aspect of Council will prosper our city.
I am committed to positive change for Hamilton and will be standing for Mayor on 8 October. I am also standing for the West Ward as a Hamilton City Councillor.