Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta signing the urban growth partnership agreement. - Photo: Supplied / Waikato Regional Council
New Zealand's first urban growth agreement between central government, local councils and mana whenua has been signed to manage development in the area between the country's two fastest-growing cities, Hamilton and Auckland.
The government will partner with Waikato councils and Auckland Council to co-ordinate the building of housing, transport and other infrastructure and services.
The agreement was signed at a meeting of Future Proof, a joint project set up to plan for future growth in the region.
The area stretches from Papakura in the north, including the Franklin district to Cambridge and Te Awamutu in the south.
At the core of any future development are the Waikato and Waipa rivers, the main trunk rail line and the Waikato Expressway.
Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford and the Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta signed the agreement on behalf of the government on Thursday.
Mr Twyford said the Waikato corridor would get the biggest share of all population, economic and jobs growth over the next 30-50 years.
"If we don't plan well and invest in infrastructure in a smart way then we will just get more traffic congestion and more unaffordable housing and we will be a lot less prosperous as a country than we could be if we get it right."
Ms Mahuta said a priority would be to unlock Hamilton's growth potential.
"With its outstanding transport connections, plentiful land and the key role it plays in the region's export economy, Hamilton is poised to become [not just] an even higher growth but affordable urban centre. I am pleased that Waikato-Tainui have been central to this approach all the way through.
"Strategic planning will protect and enhance the quality of both regions' natural environments, as well as their cultural heritage. It will also help boost the supply of affordable housing options to the communities that need them the most."
Mayor of Waikato District Allan Sanson heads a council that sits fairly in the middle of the corridor.
"This is not about just housing, this is about employment, this is about the whole life cycle for people and building communities. So if you don't have employment alongside housing, you have the same problems we have now with traffic congestion at either end of our district and that's not what we are about."
Mr Sanson said the key to the success of the project was the government's participation.
"So to have two ministers sitting on the Future Proof leadership team is amazing."
He said it would make a huge difference.
"Instead of us thinking about wanting to go to talk to government, we actually have government at the table."
Also around the table are mana whenua.
Rukumoana Schaafhausen is the chair of Te Arataura, the Waikato-Tainui executive council.
She said while growth brought many challenges, water was at the centre of it.
"So we have to look after te awa, to look after the community and therefore must be central to any development that occurs."
Ms Schaafhausen said the environment also featured large in any talk about growth.
"All of the population projections will have a significant impact on the environment and human activity is a significant contributor."
"We have to get all of that right in order to deliver communities that can thrive and be prosperous," she said.
Hamilton City Council's growth and infrastructure committee chair Dave Macpherson said he was expecting great things for the city coming out of the partnership.
"You're going to see Hamilton in the next 30 to 40 years double in size in terms of population but not footprint because the city is growing up as well as in places growing out.
"It's all looking up for Hamilton as it were."
Mr Macpherson said the risk of growth, without matching infrastructure, was always a concern.
"There's always a risk if you don't plan well for that as you have to plan for both and that is why we like this agreement because planning for the infrastructure is part of it.
He said if developers were just allowed to come in and plonk houses anywhere infrastructure would not keep up as it was not being done in a planned way.
Future Proof group chair Bill Wasley said managing growth along the corridor was a 100-year journey.
"It's about addressing those issues in terms of infrastructure deficits and that type of thing and moving forward, what other infrastructure and policy decisions are required.
"That is not just a one or three-year period, that's for 10 years, 30 years and beyond."
Mr Wasley said once decisions were made, it would be up to partners to include them in their own plans and policies and come up with funding for them.