New Headquarters - Finally!
Waikato Regional Council has a new home at 160 Ward Street in central Hamilton. The move has been a long time coming and is a great opportunity to take the best with us and yet take advantage of the energy a new environment brings for the things we can improve on. It's quite exciting to be here during such a monumental milestone.
It is ideally located near the Hamilton central transport hub which is a one of the key intersections for the public transport service we provide. Also, as a representative for Hamilton on WRC, having Hamilton City Council just a few minutes walk away will make it all the easier for meet-ups to develop a coordinated approach between our councils.
Long Term Plan decisions are made
It was great to get so much community feedback, thank you! There were nearly 5x more submissions than for the last LTP 3 years ago. I spent about 2-3 days reading all of the comments (the most interesting part) in the 1497 submissions and then spent a day in Council chambers with the full Council deliberating and debating which way to go on the 8 main proposals. At the end of the day the outcomes were:
Te Huia passenger rail services will be expanded, and sooner than planned. As well as adding a late-morning and early-afternoon run, we will look to have more Saturday services and the ability to stay on one train all the way up to the Strand in Auckland (which is only a few minutes walk from Britomart - see map).
The Sustainable Homes Scheme will be started, once we get the criteria and processes worked out. It currently looks like the design will allow homeowners to borrow up to $15,000 for upgrades and pay this back using a fixed 5.5% interest rate over 10 years via a voluntary rate on their annual WRC rates bill.
Te Waka received a funding boost from WRC for 3 years, funded from our investment returns, so that they can do more to boost economic development in our region. The accountability framework of what outcomes we want to see for this is yet to be decided. Happy to hear any suggestions on what these could be.
The Biodiversity business case to transform how we deliver services will be delivered in year two as per the Council's initial preferred option. This allows our staff to first implement the massive Essential Freshwater reforms published late last year and get full awareness of the upcoming and long-awaited NPS on IB.
The Lake Taupo Protection Trust will continue to be governed as is, based on a decision by a joint hearing with Taupo District Council, but with a future review.
The Te Aroha suburban outlet will be transferred to the Matamata Piako District Council as they are better placed to look after this than WRC.
The cost recovery charges for consent holders will be updated as planned, with some changes based on items that came up during consultation.
The rates remission and postponement policies will be updated as planned.
There were some great other ideas raised and I've made myself several notes of suggestions to explore for the next budget setting process, which will be next years annual plan. Feel free to send through your thoughts anytime via email please.
As a reflection on the hearings process it probably comes of little surprise that I observed a lack of diversity in the types of people that presented, especially in regards to ethnicity and a lack of youth voices. It was great to get an insight into how our work is influenced by what the community says in these forums and I'll be dedicating much more of my time to encourage our council to make it easy for others to engage with us and help anyone in the community believe that they can be a part of this process, that it's not scary, and that it is really worthwhile.
A note on other council's Long Term Plans...
All the Council's do their LTP's around the same time, but not exactly the same time, which makes for a busy and a bit complicated season that tires everyone out. Hoping the upcoming review into local government reforms may make our lives easier one day.
In the meantime, since I get to be part of the Strategy & Policy Committee (and its Submissions Subcommittee) I made sure to get some key priorities mentioned in our WRC submissions to LTP's of various City and District Council's as well. I made sure to ask for more investment into walking/cycling and public transport infrastructure, into biodiversity protection and restoration, and to ask them to have their own climate action plans for their organisation and area of influence (with offers of support from us).
Community engagement for climate action - how?
As chair of the Climate Action Committee I often wonder how more could be done in any sphere of influence. There are many different approaches being tried by Council's around the country, and I'm trying to learn from them and anyone really. I also keep closely aligned with the Waikato Plan Leaders Group and the Waikato Wellbeing Project who both have workstreams focussed on climate action.
I get the chance to see that a lot of important structural frameworks are being put in place at various levels. However, to the everyday person climate action can seem incredibly slow and far away.
So I'm keen to crowdsource ideas for how to close that gap for people in the Waikato, there are great things happening but they need to be shared and seen and valued.
I'm curious. Would a website help (like this one)? or a book showcasing local climate hero's (as described here)? or an Instagram account to follow? or a region-wide podcast? or a mural/exhibition? or a regular online event? or awards rewarding certified emission reductions? or a community climate action fund of some type?
I talk to many people in the climate action space all the time, so if you have thoughts on what would genuinely excite people and add value to this shift please share them.
Example of some good news on transport
The key area where emissions need to reduce fast in Hamilton is transport. I'm really happy to share that WRC is looking at innovative ways to make public transport better all the time, and one initiative I'm most excited about is the start of on-demand bus services. Once it's here please give it a go if you can and make sure to give feedback.
Also, in September the return-to-base carsharing service Loop will be transitioning to a free-floating carsharing service called Mevo. It's like a lime scooter but a car, and that makes it quite an interesting prospect for reconsidering the need to own a car rather than very easily rent one (if you have a car that you don't use that much).
Environmental data is now more accessible
EnviroHub is a new place on the WRC website that makes it much easier to get access to the majority of environmental monitoring data. It used to be spread all over the place. This was the first holistic review of how WRC presents its data in over 20 years and it is so much more digestible and accessible and visually interesting than before, saving time for everyone involved in a data request. This would've saved me so much time when I was in my Environmental Manager role prior to sitting on Council so I think it's pretty cool. There is data on air quality, water, rainfall, river flows, ecology, and more.
Go on, check it out here.
Upskilling to serve you better
Over the past few months I've been looking for avenues to upskill myself to continue to become better and better in this role. There's no clear job description and so it takes quite a bit of trial and error, reflecting and talking with others to find your way.
Many say that it takes a whole first triennium cycle to really even get a good grasp on it, and figure out what's real (and what's not) and build the networks and learn many issues and views to become really effective.
In the meantime though I want to do the best I can and have identified some areas I can work on that will serve for a long time to come. So, with the benefit of the flexibility of this role I find myself on three formal development training courses, those being:
Te Reo Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa
Finance Essentials delivered by the Institute of Directors
A personal development programme led by local inspiration Gemma Major
Hamilton City Council By-election
It was a shock to hear about the passing of Hamilton City Councillor Margaret Forsyth early in May. I didn't know her that well, but we had just started liaising more closely in a professional capacity over the past few months and I was impressed by her determination for nature in the city.
Due to timing and the law this means that there is a by-election process happening to ensure Hamiltonian's get their representation on Council. If you know anyone (or are someone) who would like to stand for a chance to be on Hamilton City Council the nominations are open until 22 June. For more information click here.
While I am on a different council, and still relatively new to the role, I have learned a lot so far over this triennium. Therefore, if I can be of service to anyone to share my knowledge and/or experience with anyone considering standing in this by-election I'd like to extend an invite to get in contact.
Coming up in June
Finally a slightly quieter month! Here are some of the most interesting meetings where, if you're interested, you're welcome to come and observe. Agendas will be available here. or you are welcome to get in contact with me a few days beforehand to ask what's on.
Strategy & Policy Committee 9.30am-1.30pm on Tuesday 8th June
Risk & Assurance Committee 9am-1pm on Wednesday 9th June
Regional Transport Committee 9.30am-1pm on Monday 14th June
Full Council Meeting 9.30am-2pm on Thursday 24th June
The livestream options aren't up an running yet but I will find out when we can get that set up now that we are in our new building with better technology in place.
This monthly insight has been put together to help you:
Learn more about local government relevant to Hamilton and the Waikato
Stay up to date with climate action and other interesting topics
Engage more through prompts to have your say at the right time
Ngaa mihi nui,