Bold new river plan

21:59, Jun 02 2014
Julie Hardaker
RIVER VIEW: Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker says a river plan will transform Hamilton and make the Waikato River the 'defining heart' of the city.

A garden bridge in the city's north and a river swimming pool at Wellington St Beach are two projects which could flow from a plan to transform how Hamilton connects with the Waikato River.

After decades of stalled river proposals and false starts, the Hamilton City River Plan is shaping up to be the best chance yet for Hamiltonians to better engage with their river.

A drop-in day for the public to give feedback on the 30-year plan will be held next week but city leaders are already heralding the river document as a "game changer" for Hamilton.

Pukete pedestrian bridge concept
BLOOMIN' NICE: An artist's impression showing how Pukete's pedestrian bridge could be redeveloped into a garden bridge.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker, who has led the plan's development, said there was a common view the city had undervalued the river for too long.

One of the goals of the river plan was to give certainty to businesses and developers wanting to work with or around the river.

"Investing in the river is about partnerships. River development is something the private sector in Hamilton wants to invest in," Hardaker said.


Boatsheds concept
RIVER SPORTS: An artist's impression of redeveloped boatsheds along the banks of the Waikato River.

"They are looking for certainty and direction and I am confident that the plan will give them that."

Ideas to come out of river discussions so far include: transforming the Pukete pedestrian bridge into a garden bridge; creating a river swimming pool at Wellington St Beach; and redeveloping the city's boatshed facilities for sports clubs.

"These are only ideas and it would be great to know what people think of them as well as share their own thoughts," Hardaker said. The river plan is budgeted to cost ratepayers $200,000 and will be finished in August.

Wellington St Beach concept
MAKING A SPLASH: An artist’s impression of a river swimming pool alongside Hamilton's Wellington St Beach.

Hardaker said many river ideas related to low-cost, quick fixes that could start immediately after the plan was adopted.

"Overall though, the impact of this plan cannot be on a small scale. We want transformational change that will impact the way our remarkable river is perceived, not only by Hamiltonians, but nationally and internationally."

Waikato University professor of environmental planning Iain White said the river plan was an opportunity for Hamilton to make the most of the river.

Although it was appropriate to focus on developing key sites along the river, it was just as important to examine how the city connected and accessed the river, White said.

"Urban areas are normally quite resistant to change and decisions made now or in the past can have a very long legacy. This is why the river plan is so exciting because it is a once in a generation opportunity to try and think about what we want Hamilton to look like," he said. "It's exactly the kind of thing the mayor should be focused on for Hamilton because the river is so clearly an asset."

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Kiri Goulter said the river plan was a "fantastic strategic step forward" and would benefit the city's tourism, accommodation and hospitality sectors.

Cycle tourism was a growing market for the region and the river plan acknowledged this trend, Goulter said.

"The tourism opportunities that will arise from this collaborative vision and approach will certainly benefit the city and region in terms of future visitor nights and expenditure."

Former Hamilton mayor Margaret Evans said previous attempts to allow Hamiltonians to better engage with the river were hampered by council red tape and political infighting.

She commended Hardaker for driving the development of the river plan and believed it could give new impetus to her idea of the Millennium Esplanade, a footbridge and esplanade for cafes and shops. The esplanade was removed from the city's long-term plan in 2006.

"We've had a range of people over the years who if something wasn't their idea, they didn't want it. But despite several attempts at assassination, the esplanade and pedestrian bridge remained in people's minds," Evans said.

Hardaker said part of becoming a true river city meant making the river an actual part of the central city, not something people had to make a deliberate decision to go to.

"When Hamiltonians have the opportunity to shop, enjoy hospitality and walk along the river I think we will feel like we have succeeded in making the river the heart of the city."

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When: June 7, 2pm-5pm Where: The Meteor, 1 Victoria St, Hamilton

Waikato Times