I was honoured today, for the second year, to open a Business Summit in our city – Survive, Revive and Thrive.
The name of the Summit is very timely. While Hamilton is doing very well in comparison to many other metro centres, we are not yet thriving – at least, not all of us.
We can always do better and we always should try to. The global pandemic will continue to serve up some significant challenges for our city and beyond. Saying that, I am very much a ‘glass half full’ as opposed to a ‘glass half empty’ person. Hamilton has a huge amount to be positive and optimistic about.
Today, when speaking at the Summit, I reiterated that one of Council’s priorities is to build a city where people thrive. We all want good outcomes for our businesses and for our families and neighbours. When we all thrive, we are a stronger and more resilient city. So today I tried to paint a picture of where our city sits in terms of some key measures.
Most people are well aware of Hamilton’s growth and nowhere is that more apparent than in the housing sector. Land supply remains a major issue and that, and the issue of affordable housing, is something that troubles me. I don’t think anyone envies the position many of our children are in, trying to get on the increasingly unattainable property ladder.
Like many others, I am also concerned about the number of families and people in emergency housing here in our city. I made some comments about that recently.
In Hamilton, as of March this year, Hamilton had developer-ready land for 3,300 homes. We need to supply, on average, 1,200 new homes annually to meet projected demand over the next 10 years. Around 57 new people a week are moving to our city and they all need to be housed.
The city is already making major investments in places like Peacocke to the south which we are building, with the support of the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund. That includes a $180 million 10-year loan and $110 million in subsidies from Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency. Those partnerships are critical.
When complete, Peacocke will house up to 20,000 people. It will include a new bridge over the river, main roads, parks, waters infrastructure and much more. It is a huge investment in infrastructure to bring that community on stream.
Peacocke is also the city’s biggest ever environmental investment. Our commitment to Peacocke, alongside our mana whenua partners and others, includes 15 hectares of gully restoration, 30 wetland areas and more than 100,000 new native plants. This Council is not interested in building just housing; we are focused on building good quality communities where all of us might choose to live.
Last year, there were 1,416 new homes built in our city, the highest number since the 1970s. Right now there are around 1,100 new dwellings currently under construction in Hamilton and about another 470 already with resource consent, waiting for construction to begin.
There has been enormous discussion around the hot housing market right across New Zealand and our city is no different. In February, the Hamilton house price index from the Real Estate Institute showed a house price increase of 21 per cent. That compares to 19% for the rest of New Zealand, 18% for Auckland and 22% for Tauranga – a city facing enormous challenges given a very poor level of investment in core infrastructure.
While all Councils have those challenges – and we are no different – our Council has and will continue to prioritise core infrastructure in any budgets going forward.
In terms of other investment, last year, we saw about $1.9 billion invested in commercial construction here in Hamilton; the highest figure since 2005. I want to acknowledge the dedicated developers who work alongside us in this space. Investors do not invest into a place without proven potential and Hamilton continues to deliver up a robust economy and provides real confidence. Hamilton’s GDP grew by -1.5% in the year to March 2021 – which of course spanned Covid-19. That compares to -3% for New Zealand.
Our employment growth over the same period was 2% compared to -0.2% for New Zealand overall.
In terms of work opportunities, Hamilton now hosts nearly 100,000 jobs and we have nearly 16,000 trading business units. Both those measures are going up. That is good news for our young people, and of course we are very young city – the youngest of all New Zealand’s 67 territorial authorities. Hamilton has a median age of about 32. That compares to Thames-Coromandel which has the highest median age in the country at 54.
Our Council, under the auspices of the Economic Development Committee, is aiming to pull what levers we can to support development. There are of course some significant restraints and while I will always seek measures of environmental protection, today I reiterated my support for the Government’s efforts to finally do something about the Resource Management Act. It has become a hindrance and not a help and reform is well overdue.
At the Summit today, there was broad agreement that Hamilton has everything we need to be an outstanding city. We have the location, we have the investment, we have the space….what we need more of, is talent. Again, that is not peculiar to our city. The skills shortage was identified at today’s summit as THE biggest barrier for businesses.
I believe that one of the roles Council can and should play in helping address that issue is building a city that is outstanding to live in….that delivers a wonderful lifestyle for families and for young people. Good people will move to Hamilton when there are good jobs and a great lifestyle, supported by appropriate and timely investment in city amenities.
In the last few months, Council has signed off on a 10-Year Plan based on a budget that will see us investing $2.5 billion in our city on capital projects and a further $3.7 billion in operating costs.
That budget protects ongoing investment in core infrastructure like roads and water and essential community facilities. It looks after ratepayer funded assets we already have by ring-fencing funding for ongoing maintenance. In simple terms, our Council has made it a priority to look after what we already have.
And it sets aside funding for those things which will help attract people to Hamilton…..and keep them here.
In our 10-Year Plan, we have for example resolved to invest $55 million over 10 years to provide safer routes for walking and biking and to ensure our city doesn’t suffer the same gridlocking issues we see to the north of us, and increasingly, in places like Tauranga.
We have committed to better libraries and to making the most out of our swimming space. We have provided $11 million in seed funding for an amazing new cycling and pedestrian bridge across the Waikato River; a project that Council is not leading, but is supporting.
Of course, these investments come at a cost to our ratepayers. I have been clear that it gave me absolutely NO pleasure to agree to an average annual rates rise of 8.9 per cent across our city. That was made up of a general rates increase of 4.4 per cent and a compliance targeted rate of 4.5%. That compliance targeted rate can largely be sheeted home to two things:
- Demands from the government to meet ever-increasing environmental and other standards in terms of water compliance, as well as the water reforms programme, and
- Further demands from the government around climate change and housing growth.
In other words, those are Wellington-based costs. Those two things alone are driving a deluge of costs and they are landing – quite unfairly in my view – on ratepayers. I’m proud of the fact that Hamilton has made those costs very transparent and I note other Councils are now trying to so the same thing.
On behalf of our city, I took the opportunity to talk about what our city needs from central Government to ensure it not only survives….but thrives.
That is what we should all be aiming for.