Hamilton's northeast wants new town centre

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 30/04/2014
Mark and Heather Connolly
Chris Hillock/Fairfax NZ

NORTH-EAST ENDERS: Mark and Heather Connolly with their daughter Jaimee, believe the council needs to provide more community facilities

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Residents in Hamilton's burgeoning northeast are urging the council to kickstart plans for a town centre, saying young families are struggling to access key public facilities.

Government confirmation of plans to build two schools in the city's northeast - including a two-staged high school in Rototuna - have strengthened calls for council to reignite stalled plans for a Rototuna town centre.

The city council has secured 17 hectares of land for community facilities around the town centre - including a library, community and aquatic centre and sports fields.

Building a Rototuna library and aquatic centre is expected to cost about $38.5 million, with both projects unfunded in the council's 10-year plan.

Woodridge resident Heather Connolly said a lack of public facilities in the area was frustrating, with families travelling across the city for swimming lessons.

"The bus service here is shocking, there's a lack of playgrounds . . . and you have people who have to traipse back to Chartwell for the library," Connolly said.

"For me it's disappointing that it has taken so long to get something like an aquatic centre despite our population size. If the council don't put in the aquatic centre by the time the high school opens [in 2016] then it will be a massive disservice to all the kids that are going in that direction.

"It's not as if the Hamilton North community hasn't put its foot down and said we need more bus routes, we need a pool and we need parks."

Mother-of-two Christie Goodspeed and her husband moved back to Hamilton a year ago and looked at buying a house in one of the city's far north suburbs. A lack of public facilities such as parks and walkways persuaded them to buy a house further south in Huntington.

"... in the end we compromised and bought in an older area which had walkways and parks plus it's in close to Chartwell and the library."

City councillor Dave Macpherson said the city's northeast residents were not well served with amenities and services.

However the Government's commitment to build two new schools gave the council a chance to explore partnerships with the Education Ministry to provide residents with a library and pool, he said.

"We could dovetail really closely with the high school. One proposal is to have a library on the school grounds which is available to the public after school hours and on weekends with some sort of joint staffing and stocking arrangement," Macpherson said.

Hamilton deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman expected discussions about public facilities in Rototuna to feature prominently in this year's 10-year plan talks.

Added to the mix was the city's improving financial situation.

"But we don't want to go spending up large and I think it's time for the Ministry of Education and local governments right around New Zealand to start talking about partnerships around some facilities," Chesterman said.

"At the moment there's no money in the basket for a library or a pool but obviously there will be pressure from the community itself to deliver on basic community needs."

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Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said council staff had been in discussions with ministry officials since last year looking at partnership opportunities.

Hardaker said it "made common sense" to get more details around how a Rototuna town centre "would look and feel" in light of the strong residential development in the northeast and the Education Ministry's announcements.

Council's city planning and environmental services general manager Brian Croad said the ministry's commitment to build a secondary school was "really significant" and would have to be factored into council decisions over funding community facilities.

Property Council of New Zealand Waikato branch president Rob Dol said the growing population in the city's northeast would increase demand for public infrastructure with sports fields in the area already "maxed out" on the weekend. But Dol did not think the council should increase debt to fund infrastructure unless it was in response to "peak demand".

Property developer Ian Patton, who is developing the Glaisdale subdivision at Rototuna, said the Rototuna town centre was the brainchild of former mayor Michael Redman and believed it was years away from being built.

Rototuna resident and Victoria St business owner Graham Boswell said a large town centre would eventually emerge in the city's north but thought council's efforts to revitalise Hamilton's central business district was a better priority.

The council's central city transformation plan is expected in October and will identify projects to transform the central city into a strong commercial centre with residential living.

SCHOOL PLAN ADVANCING

The "overall master plan" for Hamilton's new junior and senior high schools is expected to be finalised next month.

Plans for the two-in-one secondary school, the city's first new one in 30 years, were released by Minister of Education Hekia Parata in March.

The schools will be built on an 11-hectare site in north Rototuna and the ministry expects the combined roll could grow to 2400.

"The plan is still to open the junior high school in 2016 and the senior high school in 2017. We expect it [the plan] will be finalised next month," ministry spokeswoman Jill Bond said.

An establishment board and governance facilitator had already been appointed.

A principal would be in place by early next year, Bond said.

- Waikato Times

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