Ver­coe’s ban­ner year

In the first of a Waikato Times se­ries fo­cus­ing on the re­gion’s may­ors, Siena Yates speaks to Mata­mata-pi­ako district mayor Hugh Ver­coe.

Matamata Chronicle - - News -

Be­ing mayor for nearly 15 years ob­vi­ously agrees with Hugh Ver­coe, as he stands on the side of the road wav­ing at passers-by like a celebrity in a pa­rade.

He’s a man with lit­tle time but time enough for those he knows – which, ev­i­dently, is most of Te Aroha’s pop­u­la­tion, and his pride in his town and district is un­mis­tak­able.

Smil­ing, he talked about what has been a ban­ner year for the Mata­mata- Pi­ako district. It has sat com­fort­ably in the lime­light of The Hob­bit, wel­comed new com­mu­nity projects and seen huge ad­vances in lo­cal meat and dairy in­dus­tries, but he does fear it may be less smooth in the new year.

On a grass roots level, he said more peo­ple were putting in for re­source con­sents and build­ing than in past years, and with the ever-grow­ing pro­duc­tion of com­pa­nies such as Ing­hams En­ter­prises, Sil­ver Fern Farms, Open Coun­try Dairy and Waikato Busi­ness Ex­cel­lence Supreme Award- win­ner Green­lea Pre­mier Meats, he said the re­gion was ‘‘track­ing along nicely’’.

The re­gion has also gained pub­lic­ity and a mas­sive tourism boost on the back of Sir Peter Jack­son’s lat­est epic, The Hob­bit. Mata­mata, home to Hob­biton, has al­ready seen a boost in tourism num­bers which are ex­pected to dou­ble over the next year, fol­low­ing the re­lease of the film early this month and the se­quel on its way in 2013.

The Lord of the Rings films brought huge amounts of pub­lic­ity, tourism and money to Mata­mata and the rest of the district, and now The Hob­bit has been re­viv­ing that ef­fort.

‘‘ The Hob­bit’s been ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic for this area. The Gate­house [i-Site] looks fan­tas­tic and is get­ting a lot of pos­i­tive com­ments, and it’s just an enor­mous ben­e­fit, not just to Mata­mata but for the district,’’ said Mr Ver­coe.

‘‘Peo­ple are coming here on a lim­ited time­frame just to come and see the movie set, so they go to Mata­mata first and have a look around, then they’ll go and ask what else there is to do nearby and they’ll be re­ferred on here to Te Aroha, or to Mor­rinsville and that’s how we get that flow-on ef­fect. It’s great.’’

How­ever, fund­ing for things like re­gional tourism, which for Mata­mata- Pi­ako amounts to $ 100,000 each year, may be­come a thing of the past as a re­sult of new lo­cal government re­form.

Then- lo­cal government min­is­ter Nick Smith said the Lo­cal Government Act Amend­ment Bill would keep lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in check, en­cour­ag­ing bet­ter fi­nan­cial dis­ci­pline and pro­vid­ing ser­vices eas­ier for the ‘‘av­er­age ratepayer’’ to com­pre­hend.

How­ever, Mr Ver­coe said the re­form put ‘‘a ques­tion mark’’ over whether fund­ing re­gional tourism and other such projects with ratepayer money will even be le­gal as the changes set in.

‘‘That’s been the big­gest thing and will [con­tinue to] be go­ing into 2013 as well. But we’ll just have to wait and see, I think.’’

He was also some­what du­bi­ous about what the new year might bring in re­gards to the coun­cil changes to the district’s waste water man­age­ment, pop­u­larly la­belled the ‘‘pan tax’’.

Ear­lier in the year, coun­cil flipped back and for­ward be­fore even­tu­ally set­tling on three op­tions for waste­water pay­ment, in­clud­ing pay by pan, by house­hold equiv­a­lents, or by me­tered us­age – a de­ci­sion Mr Ver­coe stands by.

‘‘How can you have one flat charge for ev­ery user? It’s un­fair. Most peo­ple are run­ning on the water me­ters now, and they have – re­luc­tantly – agreed that it is a fairer sys­tem,’’ said Mr Ver­coe.

‘‘There hasn’t been a ter­ri­bly big im­pact so far this year but I’ve no doubt we’ll start to see it next year.’’

But with the bad comes the good, and 2013 will also see the rise of a mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar events cen­tre in Te Aroha, af­ter se­cur­ing enough fund­ing for the coun­cil to get be­hind it.

‘‘They went away and they came back and said, ‘ Well, we’ve got a mil­lion dol­lars’, and that grabs your at­ten­tion, when some­one says that. So we put up the $2 mil­lion they asked us for and they’re go­ing to try to raise the rest,’’ said Mr Ver­coe.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.