Project summary

Opoia Paa Car Park is located on the eastern bank of the Waikato River, on the northside of the Claudelands Bridge.  

Prior to 1863, it was first settled by Maaori and named Opoia Paa.  

Today, the land is owned by Hamilton City Council and has operated as a paid public commercial car park since the early 1970s. 

For a decade, the site has been earmarked for development with Council actively seeking a development partner. Its prime location supports Council’s housing aspirations to grow up and out from the central city and enable more affordable housing. Several development proposals have been considered throughout the years. 

The site is currently listed in our District Plan and is a recorded site by the New Zealand Archaeological Association. Due to this fact, if any earthworks were to be done on the site there would need to be a resource consent issued and a developer would be required to engage with mana whenua and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.  

Council has a strong and enduring relationship with local mana whenua and works closely with mandated iwi groups to ensure consultation and engagement is undertaken at the right time, with the right information.  

What’s happening with the site now? 

There are three matters relating to the Sonning Car Park site: 

  1. On 3 April 2023, Hamilton City Council's Council Meeting approved the approved the application to rename Sonning Car Park to Opoia Paa. At Council's 7 September 2023 meeting, a motion to change the name in recognition of the history and cultural importance of the site was carried.
  2. A Waitangi Tribunal claim in relation to the land.  
  3. Future planning for enhancement and development of the land. 

Further information can be found in the following Council reports: 

The site's history

Maaori settlement c.1500 - 1863

Ngaati Wairere first lived on this land for several centuries*.  

During the 1850s, pressures regarding land were mounting, and disputes over land, law and sovereignty between Maaori and European settlers led to a full-scale Crown invasion of the Waikato Lands in 1863. 

When the British soldiers came south along the Waikato River after 1864 the Maaori occupants withdrew from the area.  

*Nga Tupawae O Hotumauea Riverside Reserves Management Plan 2003 

European settlement 1863 – 1972

1863 - The New Zealand Settlements Act passed. The Crown confiscated the Opoia Paa land from Ngaati Wairere sometime after 1864. 

1864 - 1865, Kirikiriroa was occupied by the fourth Waikato Military Regiment who established redoubts either side of the river. 

1879 – The two sides of the river were connected in 1879 by the construction of the Union Bridge (Victoria Street Bridge). From the 1880s growth in the Waikato was facilitated by the construction of the railway – with the East Main Trunk constructed in 1883 running along the southern boundary of the site.

1909 – A girls’ school was established by Mrs May Whitehorn named after Sonning-on-Thames – a village in Berkshire, England, where Mrs Whitehorn’s family originated. Sonning Car Park was named after this school. 

1961 - Construction of the new railway bridge (known as Claudelands today) underway.

Council land purchase 1972 – 1992

The land now used as a car park was acquired by Council from three separate vendors in four stages between 1972 and 1992. 

Over the past decade, Council has consistently viewed the land as a strategic development site – specifically as a possible location for a new hotel. Council has publicly invited expressions of interest from qualified parties to develop the site. 

Frequently asked questions

What housing developments have been explored?

There has been reasonable, general interest with two specific proposals advancing to preliminary design.   

Developer A proposed a mixed-use development incorporating a raised podium with vehicle parking and manoeuvring below, a hotel and promenade overlooking the river, high-end residential apartments on the northern boundary, a commercial office block in the south-west quadrant and associated landscaping. This proposal is no longer being considered.  

Developer B proposed a comprehensive residential retirement village and associated facilities. This proposal was rejected on the basis that it did not align with Council’s vision for development of the site. 

A third, and most recent, proposal was approved by Council in principle in 2021, however never progressed passed concept stage. 

Developer C proposed an innovative mixed-use affordable housing development based on the successful Nightingale complexes in Melbourne and Sydney. The development was called Project Korimako and led by private individuals who have now withdrawn from the project.   

The site was one of several development options included in the Council’s successful application to the Government’s Infrastructure Acceleration Fund (IAF). The Council has been allocated $150.6 million from the IAF, which will be used for critical infrastructure projects to enable approximately 4,000 dwellings across multiple development sites in Hamilton’s central city. The car park was identified as one of the sites that could be unlocked by the IAF-funded infrastructure, with plans for affordable housing.

What could the sites future development look like?

Council now has an opportunity to reconsider the best future use for the site with options including exploring open space or mixed-use open space with development or continue to pursue full development to meet more affordable housing aspirations.  

For now, it will remain a paid carpark.


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Last updated 29 November 2023