For much of last Saturday, Aksel Bech was fielding an interview while trying hard not to stuff up the scoring for a cricket game at St Peter’s School.
Cricket isn’t in his DNA, he says. Handball is what the Danish-born councillor knows best, and his ability to recalibrate the cricket score as he chatted likely gives some insight into his ability to multi-task.
Bech has been sworn in as Waikato District Council Deputy Mayor. He wasted no time in nailing his colours to the mast; a more urgent approach to tackling climate change tops his agenda, as does putting time into developing the Hamilton-Auckland corridor involving metro-spatial planning that will by necessity, he said, include an overlap with Waipā.
“Working collaboratively with other councils is key, making sure people across the district can access services. It is all about the better use of money and how communities can benefit. Traditionally, councils have accidentally done that rather than purposefully done it.”
At the new council’s inaugural meeting, he called for a more strategically, co-ordinated approach in responding to climate change. Coastal erosion and flooding events are among the challenging climate issues facing the district, he said, and are among issues needing to be treated with “with greater authority and urgency”.
This marks the start of Bech’s second term as a local body politician. He became a Waikato District Councillor for Tamahere in the October 2016 elections, motivated to enter the fray by a desire to lobby for connectivity to be restored at a time when Tamahere was growing fast but had little social infrastructure.
Much of that work has now been done, he said, and while he never started out with the intention of being a local body leader, he reckons there are several areas where he can now add value across the district.
Some of those values are steeped in his Danish roots, among them the strong sense of community that is central to Danish life.
“There are areas where generations have lived their entire lives within just a 20 to 30km radius. What makes it work is their strong sense of community, their ability to support one another,” he said. “When I entered local politics here, I quickly realised that you are not advocating just for your ward, you are advocating for all the communities within your district. You can’t stop progress, but you can make it work better.”
Describing his appointment as deputy mayor as a “privilege and an honour”
Now in his mid-50s, Aksel arrived in New Zealand when he was 14. After qualifying with a science degree from Massey University, then a masters’ degree in social science from Waikato University, he moved into human resources, project management and marketing. Outside work, he has devoted much time to school boards and community committees.
Tamahere has been home for he and his wife Susan for almost 20 years, and all three children go to St Peter’s School.