Hamilton, New Zealand – Agenda 21 Model City

Hamilton, New Zealand

The fast-growing City of Hamilton is the fifth largest urban center in New Zealand. The quality of Hamilton’s environment is relatively high. Air pollution is thought to be minimal, efforts are being made to reduce, reuse and recycle waste, and issues such as contaminated sites and liquid-waste disposal into river and groundwater systems are being addressed.

The city’s LA 21 planning process should be seen in the context of a nation caught up in the trauma of major central reform begun in 1984, and local government reform starting in 1989. These reforms resulted in the massive downsizing of central government and the launching of a market-driven economy. The social impact, compounded by significant reductions to welfare benefits in the early 1990s, was substantial. The radical Resource Management Act (1991) moved the country from a control regime to an impact approach, a further challenge to most sectors already trying to cope in the reformist climate.

The concepts of responsiveness to the community and the responsibility to meet community needs were first formally adopted by Hamilton City Council as part of a major administrative review in 1987. Further, the 1989 Local Government Reform Act requires recognition by local government of the existence of different communities and their identities, values and rights, plus the provision of effective participation in local government.

Two Hamilton members of the New Zealand delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, brought back information about ICLEI’s LA 21 programme. Key council staff and a core of councillors picked up the concept.

A new council was elected in October 1992 and it formally adopted the principles and objectives of Agenda 21 in March 1993. The following month a new chief executive created a Strategic Unit that had as one of its prime tasks the responsibility for coordinating the strategic-planning exercise. In December 1993, council resolved to develop a strategic plan and planning process. The objective was to produce a twenty-year plan for the city using the principles and philosophies of Agenda 21. The major debate at the city was whether the strategic plan should be a corporate or a community document. The latter model was eventually chosen.

It was Hamilton’s selection for the MCP and the attendance of a Hamilton team at ICLEI’s 1994 workshop in Hat Yai, Thailand, that set the style and process for the initiative. The team’s recommendations on return from the conference were to integrate ICLEI’s Sustainable Development Planning Framework into the planning process and “to develop appropriate external partnerships in accordance with Agenda 21 principles and to assist in the development of a people-centered city.” Council adopted this approach, and the strategic-planning process and the strategic plan itself became Hamilton’s Model Communities Programme.

The team also recommended that a distinct project team be set up to assist in the further design and implementation of the planning framework. However, this project team was never established. The team ultimately responsible for developing the strategic plan consisted of the strategic unit manager, three full-time staff and four temporary staff. The council’s Strategic Planning and Policy Coordination Committee, comprising the mayor and all thirteen city councillors, was responsible for overseeing the process.

Differing levels of awareness of Agenda 21 among staff and councillors were addressed through presentations, memorandums and newsletters. These techniques were successful but were not continued with enough regularity throughout the process. In spite of communication through the media and at workshops, it was difficult to create a knowledge base among the general public given the complexity of the LA 21 document.

Although no one group was set up to oversee the strategic planning process, five task forces were created in May 1995 to look at specific aspects of the city’s past, current and future developments during the issue identification and priority-setting phase. In total, eighty people were involved, representing a wide range of organizations and personal views and values. The fact that the task forces comprised people outside of council gave the process public credibility.

The council-staff facilitators established the ground rules for their respective task forces, ensuring an understanding that each member’s opinions were valuable. In most cases, all members wanted similar outcomes and there were few disagreements. Task forces did not have financial decision-making powers. The main resource used was members’ time. At the end of the task-force phase the members had learned a great deal and forged worthwhile partnerships.

Community-Based Issue Analysis
In November 1994, workshops to identify issues and long-term visions were held with three groups of community partners-the city’s political planning partners; representatives from government departments and agencies from Hamilton and the Waikato region; and more than 230 key community organizations.

All participants were invited back to a Consensus Forum in December 1994, where information from the initial workshops was presented. The output from this forum was summarized in 16 Visions for Hamilton, subsequently known as “The Cloud” because of its graphic presentation. These visions were underpinned by the widely-known local value: “What’s the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people.”

The five task forces met weekly to develop various options or scenarios that looked at Hamilton’s possible future development. Presentation of ideas between task forces, at mid-point and end-point forums, ensured that all members were comfortable with the results. At the March 1995 mid-point forum, information developed by the task forces was presented to various community service agencies to gauge public perceptions about the issues. Feedback was incorporated into the task forces’ final reports. As the process continued it was difficult to keep the 16 visions in the forefront, and it was decided to focus on five major areas: environment, city growth, community development, economic development and the central business district.

The output from the task forces was made available for public comment throughout June and July 1995, through a traveling road show, a mail-return questionnaire in a special edition of the council’s newspaper delivered to all households, telephone surveys of 500 households, presentations to groups and organizations, news bulletins and interviews with the media, youth meetings and a telephone hotline.

To reforge the partnership with the Maori (indigenous) community, a meeting with the council’s Joint Maori Committee in November 1994 (coinciding with the partnership planning workshops) endorsed the development of a parallel Maori Strategic Plan process.

Between December 1994 and June 1995, a separate consultation process ensured that Maori people were fully involved in a way that was comfortable for them. The key results of the parallel consultation process were merged into the draft Strategic Plan. Maori were also involved in the general process.