Peacocke loan still go: Hamilton City Council pushing for Government cash

Hamilton's still chasing an interest-free government loan to get houses into Peacocke.

City council is about to take the third of five steps in the application process. It is requesting $308 million to prepare the southwestern suburb for development.

That money would go into big-ticket projects, including a bridge over the Waikato River, roads and wastewater systems.

City councillors agree Peacocke could leave a legacy, but disagree on what kind. Some fear a white elephant.

But in their draft long-term plan debate, eight of 10 councillors voted to send off a detailed business case.

The previous Government picked Peacocke to be a recipient of a loan from its $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund, along with developments in Auckland, Tauranga, Queenstown and North Waikato.

Now, Hamilton City Council's next step is to hand over a detailed business case.

The deal remains non-binding, which means councillors could still back out if they wanted to.

Using the loan to prep Peacocke for development is the best option on the table, said Councillor Geoff Taylor, who campaigned on developing the area. 

"There's no cheaper option. You've been told that repeatedly. Once you factor in the interest-free loan, Rotokauri isn't cheaper," he said.

"And even if you do Rotokauri, we're going to have to break open another cell within 10 years anyway."

The cost difference between opening up Rotokauri and Peacocke for housing is $79m over the next decade, general manager of city growth Kelvyn Eglinton said.

Using the government loan, the difference shrinks to about $9m.

"But for that $9 million difference over the 10 years, you're getting - rather than 3700 houses in Rotokauri - you're getting 8500 total in Peacocke," Eglinton said.

Mayor Andrew King also campaigned on developing Peacocke, and said it's a business model that pays its own way, not some kind of guessing game.

"I think this council, when we're old councillors in our rocking chairs and retired, we'll look back and we'll smile to ourselves in our hearts about what we achieved during this process for the city."

What would have happened if past councils had said no to Rototuna and Flagstaff, Deputy Mayor Martin Gallagher asked his colleagues.
He challenged them to find a better option than Peacocke: "What is your vision? What is your alternative?"

Rotokauri could provide 3700 houses in the next decade, councillors heard, and Peacocke could fit 8500.
But Cr Angela O'Leary was concerned council would "leave a legacy that's a great white elephant ".

Some of the proposed 15.5 per cent rates rise would be to support growth, she said, citing budget references to 15 new staffers in the growth department.

A change in economic climate could be coming, she said, because a recent Westpac survey had shown decreasing business confidence.

"I'm not convinced that the growth that we have had and that has been reported is unprecedented."

Cr Mark Bunting wanted to stay in for now, but was worried about pushing council's debt capacity with that "jolly hundred million-plus bridge".

"I will vote for it to stay in the dance, but I'm giving you notice that I have called an Uber and unless the band starts playing a slightly better song, I'm going to pack up and go home."

Cr Rob Pascoe said the loan was as big a decision as the long-term plan and Cr Paula Southgate said community spending was the "poor relation to growth".

The loan decision followed a vote to approve Peacocke as the city's next growth area, subject to the Housing Infrastructure Fund loan process continuing.

That vote was 10-2, with Crs James Casson and O'Leary against.