Waikato Regional Council
Leading a region to compete globally and care locally
The Waikato Regional Council’s vision for the Waikato is for a strong, export-driven economy and a healthy environment. The council aims to create the right conditions for growth by balancing environmental and economic outcomes: no small task in a geographically diverse region containing almost 400,000 people and which stretches over 25,000 square kilometres from National Park to the Bombay Hills and East and West to both coasts in between.
The current political landscape sees local and regional government increasingly held to account for the delivery of core Government priorities. Consequently Waikato Regional Council is taking a greater role in areas such as regional economic development in order to contribute to the growth of the national economy. Increasing the value of international exports is important to achieving New Zealand’s economic growth objectives, which is necessary to lift people’s incomes and living standards. This is particularly true for the Waikato region which lags behind much of New Zealand across several indicators.
However, it is also important to ensure that economic growth does not come at the expense of the environment upon which the Waikato economy relies. Waikato Regional Council’s own strategy indicates a move towards a higher level of leadership in regional development and a resolve to enable the people of the Waikato region to achieve their vision of ‘competing globally caring locally’. The vision recognises that the region’s ability to take advantage of global opportunities requires strong local communities with healthy environments.
A key role of the council in achieving their vision is to work with businesses and industry groups, central and local government, iwi, tertiary education and research providers and others to address the Waikato’s challenges and opportunities. Consequently, having the people of the Waikato collaborate in the achievement of the vision is the first of Waikato Regional Council’s current three flagship goals. The second is for the values of land and water resources to be sustained across the region and the third is for Waikato Regional Council to meet their legislative requirements in regard to co-governance with iwi of natural resources management.
A changing population
Of course, in order to be true to their vision, Waikato Regional Council must also recognise and respond to the changing face of the communities they serve. The region’s general population is ageing, with a bulge of people in the 35 – 55 year age group. The 65 plus population is set to increase by over 83 per cent between 2006 and 2026. This is more than five times the increase forecast in the same period for the 45-64 age group, which has the next highest level of growth. About half of the people living in the Waikato are aged 35 years and older. This means the region needs to think now how they will cater for a significantly older population in years to come.
In general, the population of the region is growing – quickly – and contains some of the fastest growing areas in New Zealand. The population grew by 7.7 per cent between 1996 and 2006 and the Hamilton population grew almost 20 per cent in the same period. Conversely, other communities are facing the permanent end of population growth. The net migration loss of young people from many non-urban areas is also contributing to the accelerated increase in the proportion of the population that is ageing. That loss is also strongly associated with a slowing and in some cases ending of population growth.
The number of Māori in the region is growing. At present, twenty per cent of the population in Waikato identify as being Māori compared with 14.6 per cent nationally, and 67 per cent of the Waikato’s Māori are less than 35 years old. Waikato Regional Council knows they may need to change the way they interact with Māori and iwi in the future, and have already identified co-governance as one of their flagship goals.
Key Council Activities
The breadth of the region’s demographics and geography is matched by the Council’s breadth of activity. In a region rich in natural resources, whose primary sector and export economy rests firmly upon those resources, Waikato Regional Council’s role includes the governance and management of land, air, freshwater and coastal marine areas.
Waikato Regional Council spearheads strategic planning at the regional level, and delivers strategy via a range of statutory and non-statutory documents such as the Regional Policy Statement, the Regional Land Transport Strategy, Civil Defence and Emergency Management and regional economic development strategies.
Core public services and work programmes include:
- Provision of regional scale infrastructure, such as flood protection assets that protect billions of dollars’ worth of urban areas, roading infrastructure and productive farmland
- Transport planning and provision in order to keep the region moving economically and socially
- Regional scale response to, and assessment of, natural hazards including floods, earthquakes, tsunamis to protect communities and assets
- Biosecurity/biodiversity activities to safeguard the productive and export earning capacity of the natural environment
- The support of indigenous biodiversity, a key foundation for a sustainable economy
- Obtaining, storing and evaluating information so it can be measured how the region is doing environmentally and economically
- Holistic management of catchment areas
While not an exhaustive list of Waikato Regional Council activities, this does provide some insight into the broad range of activities they undertake.
Challenges for the future
Waikato Regional Council has identified a number of key challenges that will have an impact on the region in the future and to which they will be required to respond.
The state of natural resources:
The Waikato’s natural resources, such as air, soil and water, provide for the region’s economic, social and cultural wellbeing. But in some places, these natural resources are under pressure. Waikato Regional Council is responsible for ensuring the effects of activities on the environment are managed within acceptable limits under the Resource Management Act 1991 and other legislation. They know that extra resources will be required in the future to address the declines in quality, quantity and availability of natural resources.
Land and water:
Managing land and water is one of the biggest challenges the region faces, and most attention here is focused on the impact that intensification of land use for farming has had. This intensification has brought major economic benefits, but has also put pressure on soil and water.
The number of dairy cattle in the region increased by almost 19 per cent between 1999 and 2009, making the region home to 1.8 million dairy cattle in 2009, one third of the national dairy herd. Although there has been a net increase in the land used for dairying, stocking rates have also increased, and balancing the drive for increased production with management of the environmental impacts is part of the Waikato Regional Council’s responsibility.
They are already tackling land and water management in a number of innovative ways, but know there is still significant work to be done. Variation 6 to the Waikato Regional Plan, a new ‘land and water road map for sustainable agriculture’ and working with iwi to review the plan governing activities in the Waikato River catchment are some of the ways they plan to address the challenges facing our land and water resources.
Resourcing treaty settlements:
The challenge here is for the Waikato Regional Council to participate constructively in Treaty negotiations and to embed the resulting legislative requirements into day-to-day business processes.
Treaty settlements are increasingly addressing the expectations of iwi in the management of natural resources. The new co-governance framework for the Waikato River in particular represents a new era in Treaty settlements and iwi engagement as a whole. A number of other Treaty negotiations are underway or foreshadowed, including those in the Hauraki and Coromandel areas and west coast harbours.
The establishment of two Māori seats in the 2013 local government elections will also complement co-governance.
Climate change and hazards:
Climate change presents significant implications for the Waikato region’s environment, economy and the safety of its communities, and will impact communities and the council in a number of ways, not least because climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of adverse weather events. More droughts are expected for the east of the region, leading to increased demand for water, particularly on the Hauraki Plains. The quantity and quality of water and other natural resources will change.
The ‘active’ hazard zones will shift, with increased risks to communities from natural hazards such as river and coastal flooding, coastal erosion and severe weather.
The council will face increased costs for event warning, disaster damage, and repair and response efforts. Additional monitoring of rainfall, soil moisture and sea levels will also be required. Longer term or multi-generational planning will be required and the council will have an increased specialist advice role, especially regarding the Emissions Trading Scheme.
The demographic changes the region is facing have been discussed above. Two major areas the council know they will need to consider is the ability for the aging population to afford rates increases, and the way that they interact and consult with iwi.
Land use and the built environment:
Increasing demand for urban development and intensified pastoral agriculture is putting pressure on land, water and soils. The Waikato region’s major commercial land users, pastoral farming (58 per cent) and plantation forestry (12 per cent) rely on appropriate land use and healthy soils.
Subdivision of rural land is increasing, and occurs mostly on land with high productive capabilities. Our coastal areas and rivers and lakes are experiencing increasing pressure for lifestyle developments, while the effects of changing climate are increasing the potential for erosion and flooding in these areas.
Development that occurs without considering future servicing requirements creates problems. It can compromise the efficiency of infrastructure such as roading. Expanding or retrofitting existing infrastructure can be difficult and expensive, and installing new infrastructure can also be problematic. Waikato Regional Council has recognised these challenges in their proposed Regional Policy Statement.
The coming years represent both opportunity and challenge for the region and the council understands the importance of collaboration with the many stakeholders throughout the region. At Tompkins Wake, we look forward to working with Waikato Regional Council and assisting them in achieving their vision for a region that competes globally and cares locally.