Twelve months ago I was honoured to be elected Mayor of Hamilton. A year later, I feel more privileged than ever to lead one of New Zealand’s most wonderful cities, a place I have called home for more than 40 years.
My mayoralty began with a roar and 12 months on, that roar continues as Council and Council staff continue to work hard to do their very best for Hamilton.
Speaking at the granting of $12 million to the Waikato Regional Theatre
Within weeks of my inauguration last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in Hamilton, announcing her government would invest $12 million into our new Waikato Regional Theatre. This announcement was very welcome and it set the tone for a more mature relationship between our city and decision-makers in Wellington. Last week I was thrilled with the announcement of a $40 million boost to the Ruakura Inland Port. In August the government formally advised it would investigate the potential for rapid rail between Hamilton and Auckland. And in June, $16.8 million in funding was secured from the Provincial Growth Fund for key transport projects at Ruakura.
There have also been smaller, but still valued government investments into Hamilton, including $1.5 million to enable us to repair a long-closed river path; a project which also created 50 jobs.
I am more committed than ever to working alongside the government and our other partners to get the very best for our city and our ratepayers. It is very much ‘my style’, to work collaboratively, to create win-wins and to ensure that our city partners well with others.
We secured government support for the Ruakura Transport Hub
At the blessing of the ACC building with Minister Nanaia Mahuta
And Council is also continuing to invest in things I know are important to our people, including our stunning Hamilton Gardens. In October last year the new Picturesque Garden opened followed by the unique Surrealist Garden in January. As I promised, Council has now reconsidered further development plans to ensure we can retain the much-loved Rhododendron Lawn.
At the opening of the Surrealist Garden in January
We also reached a huge milestone in November when an ecological project very close to my heart – Lake Waiwhakareke – opened to the public after many years of work from groups and volunteers. After more than a decade of planting, this wonderful site is now open for all to enjoy. Meanwhile, investment in other projects around Hamilton has also continued under my watch. We have resurfaced the netball courts at Minogue Park, put new turf at FMG Stadium Waikato and opened Korikori Park in North Rototuna – to name just a few.
Work at Peacocke, our newest growth area in the south of the city, has also continued at pace over the last 12 months as we finally unlock a new part of Hamilton that will, over time, be home to 20,000 people. Our city is growing, and growing fast. But I remain absolutely determined to ensure we are developing sustainable communities and not just building houses. Before I was elected, it was my strong view that we must create neighbourhoods where families feel safe and want to live. After a year in the job, that view has not changed.
We also need to work much harder to ensure we have a range of housing options in our city, including affordable options that will allow our children and grandchildren to get into their own homes, just as we did.
A strong team
Your Council is continuing to work very, very well as a team with committed Councillors. We all have a passion for our city and want what is best for Hamilton. Our ranks were swelled in the most joyful way in June, when Councillor Sarah Thompson gave birth to her gorgeous baby son, Leo. With the support of her husband, Sarah is continuing to contribute fully in all Council business. We have a second Councillor, Kesh Naidoo-Rauf, also due to have a baby later this year and we look forward to that. All of us celebrated in July when Councillor Margaret Forsyth was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to netball and the community.
Of course, my first year as Mayor – like all of ours – was thrown a massive curve ball as we faced an unprecedented global pandemic. Strong teamwork was critical in March as Hamilton City Council reacted very, very quickly to protect our people and our city’s economy from the ravages of Covid-19. The lockdown we were all plunged into presented enormous logistical challenges for Council. But we were the first city to get up and running and able to make critical decisions, fast, to help those who needed support the most. I am very proud of that.
Covid-19 also had a dramatic impact on events and the cancellation of Anzac Day commemorations was particularly poignant. People in our city were disappointed by the cancellation of the HSBC Rugby Sevens which were such a resounding success for our city earlier this year. As I approach my first year anniversary, it’s fabulous to see some events coming back on stream. I loved having the Silver Ferns at Claudelands and we still have cricket to look forward to. I was thrilled to have it confirmed that New Zealand band, SIX60 will be playing outside at the Claudelands Oval in February next year. Now that is something to look forward to!
With the Clarkes at the opening of the Waikato rugby history wall
As we adjust to the new world, Council has also adjusted accordingly. When elected, I promised I would keep rates and Council spending under control and I have. This year I and some other Councillors pushed very hard to soften your rates bill. We secured an average annual rates rise of 2.8 per cent which was lower than what had been forecast. I felt this was important, noting that this is also the last year of the city’s transition to rates based on the capital value of properties.
In response to the financial impact of Covid-19, Council also asked staff to delay 14 capital projects worth nearly $60 million. We are still however, continuing to invest in our city and we are proceeding with more than $300 million worth of capital projects that simply must go ahead. But the effects on Covid-19 on our city, our country and the world are far-reaching and we are far from out of the woods, yet.
The year ahead
As I look ahead to second year of my Mayoralty, I know times will continue to be challenging and that my diary will continue to be very full! In a growing city like ours, change is constant and is not always easy.
I am very supportive of our new kerbside recycling and rubbish collection, but I know that there are still issues to be worked through. Staff are working very hard to do that.
We will continue to have major long-term infrastructure issues including how best we manage growth and how we tackle major challenges like water and wastewater. I have made my view on water reform clear. I believe something must change and outlined my thoughts on that in August.
Early in 2021, we will start putting together a budget for the coming decade and I personally will be looking very closely at how we get the very best value from the finite funds we have available. Our community has provided a clear steer on what our priorities should be, and I have listened closely to that feedback so I can best represent the interests of those who entrusted me with this role.
As we head into 2021, you will hear more about those priorities. I look forward to hearing what you have to say so I, as your Mayor, can continue to do my very best on your behalf.
In the meantime, my very sincere thanks to all of you for your ongoing support, your questions and your ongoing and very welcome interest in the decisions Council makes on your behalf. We still have two and a half months of the calendar year to go, and in these times, we must be prepared for anything!