A group of University of Waikato academics have been working with the Waipā District Council and community on a spatial plan that will shape the future of the district.
Environmental Planning Lecturer Dr Christina Hanna, Associate Professor Patrick Barrett and Professor Priya Kurian from Political Science and Public Policy were commissioned as project partners by the strategy team at the Waipā District Council to help support the development of the Ahu Ake - Waipā Community Spatial Plan.
The Council has been working with its communities since 2020 to develop a spatial plan for the district. In 2023 it conducted its first World Cafe, with the support of University partners.
Dr Hanna says the spatial plan will help the Council prioritise where and how they invest and plan for the future, in a way that reflects the diverse aspirations of the people in the district.
“This is a new approach to community engagement, operating beyond the standard processes for New Zealand local government,” says Dr Hanna.
The World Cafe approach brings together a group of people to discuss topics and generate ideas. The workshops were a way of focusing on community priorities such as housing and placemaking, economic development, parks and public facilities, and heritage, arts and culture.
Involving Waikato academics in the community engagement strengthens the plan’s process and legitimacy, offering the Council an independent support and advisory team.
“This project has been an excellent opportunity for us to support local democratic processes and to undertake empirical research on innovative community engagement practices,” says Dr Hanna, an expert in resource management and climate change adaptation at the University.
Waipā District Council Group Manager Strategy Kirsty Downey says partnering with the University and having the input and expertise of academic staff provides elected members and staff with confidence.
“It ensured council that the processes followed were robust and reflected best practice, and the outcomes would enhance the effectiveness of Ahu Ake and the wellbeing of our Waipā communities,” says Downey.
Ahu Ake will undergo a final round of consultation and decision-making before it becomes a living and working plan in 2024. The project will provide valuable lessons for local and international governments and communities.