Use city's growth to increase amenities

By Ged Cann

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Paula Southgate  Photo / supplied
Paula Southgate Photo / supplied

Waikato Regional Council chair Paula Southgate has joined the race for Hamilton's mayoralty, championing a view that Hamiltonians should seize opportunities presented by burgeoning growth to increase amenities and standard of living in the city.

Unlike other council hopefuls who advise against loosening the purse strings, Ms Southgate said benefits of an increasing population and revenue from the likes of development contributions should be used to increase utilities and therefore the standard of living for city residents.

"We have to optimise our debt, but we have to realise there are some things that need doing. It's balancing wise management of that debt against the need to do things to make Hamilton a truly modern and liveable city."

Ms Southgate, who will also run for Council in the east ward, said small communities were due greater attention from Hamilton City Council, and points to northern development where mushrooming development has, in her opinion, left areas without.

"The only thing up there is houses and roads," she said.

"I know that communities in Flagstaff and the north would like to see some kind of library service ... the nearest library is Chartwell so you can see why residents want a little more than they are getting at the moment."

Ms Southgate said these amenities would not detract from the flagging CBD, which she said had a long recovery ahead with the the key to that recovery being filled office spaces and providing a different shopping and dining experience for customers compared to The Base.

No one can question Southgate's governance experience, with 15 years' involvement with the Regional Council, however a concern among some voters may be her ability to shift from a regional focus to a city focus.

"I think it's a real strength to come from a regional background, and don't forget I have always been voted on by Hamiltonians," she said.

"The Regional Council has a much wider scope of activity than people realise. It's not all environmental topics at all. It firmly has its foot in the economic development arena. I fully understand the importance of a fully functioning wider region for the wellbeing of Hamilton.

"For example, the Regional Economic Profile was developed by the Waikato Regional Council and the city does rely on a lot of that data and its economic modelling."

Ms Southgate is a supporter of both the River Plan and Central City Transformation Plan, but questions some of the prioritisation currently in the plans.

"The Ferrybank is vital to get things going, as are the parks and through-ways to the river that are planned. I think they will be wonderful because, before long and without too much effort, we will be able to see the river."

Meanwhile Ms Southgate said other upgrades like the planter boxes on the sewer bridge between Flagstaff and Pukete could wait.

"It's cutting your cloth according to your budget and doing things in increments. I do support the vision in the long term but I think we need to make some traction in the short term."

Tourism was also touched upon, and Southgate said the key would be working alongside Hamilton & Waikato Tourism and tour providers to create package deals with overnight stays within the city and daily excursions stretching out into the wider Waikato.

Creating a pedestrian-friendly walk from Claudelands across the river was also a key objective for Southgate.

Founders is shaping up to to be a hot topic in this year's election, and Ms Southgate is in support of a new theatre, but believes with modern techniques the space should also cater to, and be adaptable to, hosting other arts events.

On the topic of future city growth Ms Southgate said expansion would likely continue to the north, with demand and land availability for subdivision both being strong contributors.

However, she said intensification of the Hamilton CBD was also something she would emphasise.

A firm supporter of the benefits of the Waikato Expressway and increased connection to Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, Ms Southgate said Hamilton City Council had to keep pressing for a freight and commuter rail link to Auckland.

- Hamilton News

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