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Next week, Hamilton City Council will discuss whether Sonning Car Park should have a new name, following an application by local hapuu Ngaati Wairere.

The central city riverside parking spot has been known as Sonning since the early 70s after a girls’ school that resided there, but long before this it was first settled as Opoia Paa by the hapuu. Ngaati Wairere made a formal request to change the name in April this year.

Strategic Property Manager Nicolas Wells said staff are recommending the name change is approved but deferred until a plan for enhancing and developing the Sonning Car Park site has been considered and approved by Council.

“We also recommend developing any new site plans and a name change is done in partnership with mana whenua.

“The site is a valuable and prominent property and has a rich and full history. There’s a lot of kaupapa (topics) for councillors and mana whenua to think about; but a name change recognises the past and cultural importance of the site and supports the outcomes set in Council’s He Pou Manawa Ora Strategy.”

Prior to 1863, the site was first settled by Maaori and Ngaati Wairere who lived on this land, Opoia Paa, for several centuries. Following the Waikato Land Wars in 1863, the Union Bridge (Victoria Street Bridge) was built. 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.

The site was used for a girls’ school. Council purchased the land in the 1970s.

The extent of the paa site stretches across the Union Bridge to Jesmond Park, so staff are also recommending this park be considered for renaming.

“Council has earmarked the Sonning Car Park site for development for more than a decade, largely due to its strategic location near the central city and Claudelands,” said Mr Wells. “Development proposals over the years have included a retirement village and a hotel.”  

In 2021, Council approved a proposal in principle to utilise the site as an innovative mixed-use affordable housing development based on the successful Nightingale complexes in Melbourne and Sydney. Called Project Korimako, it was led by private individuals who have since withdrawn from the project.  

Mr Wells said Council is now taking the opportunity to review the site’s future enhancement and development scope. High-level options will be considered by the Economic Development Committee on 14 September 2023, after which plans for the site can be developed in partnership with mana whenua.  

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. Sonning Car Park was identified as one of the sites that could be unlocked by the IAF-funded infrastructure, with plans for affordable housing. 

The full Council report on the name change and other matters is available here. The live Council meeting will be available to watch via this link on 7 September 2023.  

History of the site 

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 – Construction of Union Bridge (Victoria Street Bridge). 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 Sonning 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. 


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