HCC’s recent cloak and dagger changes to the district plan is knee-jerk, short-term thinking that has dire consequences for development in the very part of the city it is trying to protect.
The way the council rushed through Variation 21 has left a very sour taste in the mouth of some of Hamilton’s biggest and longest standing companies, and put at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of potential development.
By creating a commercial services zone that ring fences the CBD, except for HCC’s Claudelands development, it has made it incredibly difficult to build anything other than small shops and offices outside that zone..
Sneaking through these changes with no consultation two days before amendments to the Resource Management Act came into effect, means the council has avoided being constrained by the new rules – most particularly the ones regarding increased consultation with ratepayers.
From a Tainui Group Holdings perspective it is clear that The Base, our flagship development at Te Rapa, is a key target of this change. However, it is shortsighted and simplistic to blame The Base for the woes of the CBD. The Base was specifically designed to be a regional centre and our research shows it is stopping leakage of Waikato shoppers and money over the Bombays to Auckland, or the Kaimais to the Bay of Plenty.
If shoppers from around the region didn’t like it and it didn’t meet their wants, needs or standards then they would not come. TGH has invested $100 million developing The Base and it has committed $100 million more to development of The Mall at The Base. The region has a poven lack of mall space.
When The Mall is finished there will still be 12 hectares of land at The Base which will now be prohibitively hard to develop. These final stages of development were to have a community and social service focus with offices, a hotel, health clinic, public spaces and even a library all in the mix.
Let us not forget that The Base sits on land wrongfully taken from our shareholder, Waikato-Tainui, which was finally returned to it as part of its historic 1995 treaty settlement.
To knobble its final stages on half-baked assumptions, preventing us from deriving full value from that settlement, directly undercuts the settlement.
It is not just Tainui Group Holdings which is affected by these undemocratic rule changes. Longstanding Hamilton companies like The Porter Group and the Perry Group had substantial development plans outside of the council’s new zone. Like ours, their plans are also now in jeopardy.
For TGH this is not just about Te Rapa and The Base. We are also probably the single largest investor and developer in the CBD. We have poured tens of millions of dollars into the central city with developments like the Novotel Tainui and Ibis Tainui.
We are the landlord of Centre Place and have undertaken other boutique retail and office redevelopments in the CBD. It is in our interests to see the CBD thrive. National and international experience shows that what is happening to the Hamilton CBD is not unique, and the way to reinvigorate it is with smaller, boutique and specialist developments. TGH has been factoring this into its planning for the CBD for a number of years.
Council needs to sit down with TGH, and other local companies, to work through its concerns about the CBD. It needs to restore our faith in its decision making processes so we have the confidence to make future investments in Hamilton.