Being mighty requires aspiration

By Graham Dwyer

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Graham Dwyer, chairman of Agenda Waikato, an independent business-led think tank. Photo / Supplied
Graham Dwyer, chairman of Agenda Waikato, an independent business-led think tank. Photo / Supplied


Waikato is having to work harder than ever.

Large government projects that have been in the pipeline, such as the Waikeria Prison and the potential Medical School are considered by the think tank as "at risk" with a change in government.

However, with that risk comes opportunity of central government funding and resources that we need to be ready to grab and leverage off. If the region isn't prepared, it could be another chance that floats past our mighty region.

For the next three years there is a $1 billion per annum fund for regional development and while obtaining $25 million here and there for regional facilities like theatres or pools, or contributions to minor strategies is positive, it still holds us back where a regional or sub-regional approach will beat a fragmented approach every time for the betterment of the region.

Given the Waikato makes up about 10 per cent of New Zealand's GDP we should be aiming to obtain a minimum $100 million slice of the pie every year; yet why stop there?

As a region do we have a clear aspirational view of opportunity and competitive advantage, or a clear view of what is needed, or are we reactive and fragmented?

What is the Waikato and what makes it unique? If we are mighty, then we need to be aspirational. Imagine if $200 million p.a. were focused on the mighty Waikato.

Mighty for our contribution to NZ Inc. Mighty in high performance sport, agriculture, manufacturing, bloodstock. Mighty place to live, work and play. Mighty in our vision and ability to make it happen.

Agenda Waikato, the sub-region's independent business-led think tank, is calling for the region to be more aspirational and united when identifying the priorities and opportunities for the region. These priorities will also need to be based on and supported by robust data.

To assist with establishing what the priorities are for the region Agenda Waikato recommend a two-fold approach that involves prioritising what is important for our individual communities, and what is important for the whole of the region.

Part of this identification process will be aided by the think tank's recently commissioned research project that aims to pull data scattered in the region into one pot under the categories live, work, play.

The data will be accessible by all, especially the new Regional Economic Development Agency.

The research project will have a business-lens view and a style that will appeal to all stakeholders. The data will be regularly updated so it is consistent, usable by all, and relevant. Gaps and opportunities will be identified and help provide evidence and support regional projects.

The various initiatives and groups cannot act in silos and Agenda Waikato suggests that to attract more than our fair share, the region, or at least various parts of the region, need to be singing a similar song.

We are a region of many communities with individual flavours and require a need for these communities to understand what is important to the others and support the importance all Waikato communities thriving e.g. should Raglan support the Hauraki Rail Trail or Hamilton support the Cambridge pool.
It isn't a competition.

If Te Aroha has aspiration to become a spa town then we need to be careful Kawhia doesn't become a spa town or that they carefully consider why they both should and how they compare.

And then there is the big picture regional stuff where the impact of that investment benefits the region as a whole.

As 10-year plans are due to be open for consultation, and given the recent release from Hamilton City Council regarding rates, it leads us to thinking about the councils. Reviewing these plans makes for the perfect time to create and drive more alignment with each territorial authority in the region.

Is Hamilton's proposed rates increase sending the right message for the region? Or is it even enough to get it right this time?

Does the plan have enough aspiration? Clearly there's something not quite right with their 10-year plan as it was already amended under Julie Hardaker's watch for compounding 3.8 per cent increases.

If it was working there'd be no surprise increases. If development contributions were forecast and charged correctly then the cost of growth would be covered.

If council-owned assets were managed throughout their lifecycle and replacements or upgrades fully provided for, then would we have had to close Founders Theatre, for example.

Our territorial authorities benchmark their rates but do they benchmark costs and productivity? It's a question about efficiency and being fit for purpose.

For example, does one council take two hours to process a consent while another takes 20 hours, or seven traffic engineers versus one? Who is the most efficient council in our region and can the others learn from them?

As well as sharing some services, the many councils in our region can look to share efficient processes and innovations for the betterment of the region, its people and businesses.

If then, the answer is to increase Hamilton's rates then let this be the last time we get a surprise and let it be sustainable so that it can fund the aspirational projects and future proof the city and the sub-region.

The last thing our people and businesses want is to pay more and receive status quo; those times are over, for to be a part of the mighty Waikato we need to see the mightiness.

A strategy needs to be in place for those that cannot afford such an increase but it shouldn't mean the rest of the occupants miss out on a more aspirational place to live.

While the proposed rates increase in one part of our region has gained a lot of attention, Agenda Waikato urges not to lose sight of the fact Waikato is a large contributor to NZ Inc. and there is a large sum of money up for grabs if the region is singing a similar song.
We need to stand up, be proud of who and what we are, think and act with aspiration and make it happen.
Time to come together in practice, be counted, or our timing will be all wrong.

- Graham Dwyer is the chairman of Agenda Waikato, an independent business-led think tank

- Hamilton News

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