‘Palm Springs’ on Auckland’s doorstep
Helensville: a city of 20,000, home to the rich and famous, with hot springs, golf courses and stylish hotels.
Fanciful? Not to Sir Bob Harvey, former mayor of Waitakere and long-time visionary for west Auckland. He believes the small north-west township (current population 2800) is poised to be transformed into Auckland’s “Palm Springs” in the flow-on from the massive retail and urban developments at Westgate and surrounding areas.
He thinks in 20 years Helensville – just 26km up State Highway 16 from Westgate – will have grown into a satellite city in its own right with a population of up to 20,000.
“Helensville is an untapped gem and has almost unlimited potential,” he says, maintaining the small township will very quickly become to Auckland what Palm Springs in the Californian desert is to Los Angeles. Around 170 kms away, Palm Springs is known for its hot springs, hotels, golf courses and spas and is home to 46,000.
“Helensville too has hot springs (2km away in Parakai) and is on the Kaipara River. It will become home to the rich and famous, have golf courses and apartments – the speed of this will be rapid,” he says.
“This is not crazy. American cities like Boston and Philadelphia have become satellites and many people living in them regularly commute to New York. The same is going to happen here, we are just growing up really.”
Sir Bob says the unfolding Westgate development – led by the New Zealand Retail Property Group (NZRPG) – is the beginning of the 21st century development not just of the north-west but the whole of Auckland.
NZRPG chairman Mark Gunton says in many ways Westgate has served its apprenticeship and the vision of its role as a strategic hub is starting to be realised. He believes it will evolve into Auckland’s third major commercial centre after Albany/Takapuna and Manukau.
He says growth will provide a tremendous impetus for the north-west in terms of residential development and job opportunities.
“We’ve always been aspirational about what Westgate could be to the north-west and Auckland. This isn’t a contrived town, it’s a town that will undergo continuous metamorphosis – what we build really needs to be what people tell us they want and will use,” he says.
Likened to the growth of “two Hamiltons”, development has created 240,000 sq m of retail activities and will have a huge impact on surrounding areas such as Hobsonville, Whenuapai, Kumeu-Huapai, Waimauku – and Helensville.
An additional 900 hectares of urban development with 9200 new homes is planned at Kumeu-Huapai (provision for this area to be established as a satellite town is part of the Auckland Unitary Plan) while closer to Westgate the Whenuapai/Red Hills area is expected to contain an extra 20,000 homes spread over 2000 hectares within 30 years.
A considerable number of these homes have already been built or are under construction. The evidence is easy to see; a drive through the district reveals mushrooming urban estates on land that only a short time ago was pasture.
A glimpse into the future is evident in other ways too. Manager of the North West District Business Association, Gary Holmes, says Marketview research shows that in the last five years electronic and credit card spending in the district has grown by 81 per cent.
Local real estate offices are reporting a growing number of north-west residents who originally moved to the area for its rural ambience, are selling up and moving to even more distant rural areas, signaling a likely change in the area’s demographic make-up.
Over the last 18 months up to 20 per cent of sales through the Ray White real estate office in Kumeu, for example, have been for this reason, according to the principal agent at the office, Andrew Widdup.
He believes a definite trend is occurring – traditionally this reason accounts for only five per cent of sales.
“While some are retirees, many are telling us they are going because of the increasing urbanisation and the desire to live in a rural area much like Kumeu used to be,” he says.
Widdup thinks the Westgate development is good for the area and the number of people moving to the district obviously more than compensates those leaving: “I think we will see changes in the north – west demographic – perhaps to younger age groups – as time goes by.”
This trend is similar to that seen by another long-standing agent in the area, Stephen Theobold of Harcourts in Kumeu, while in Helensville, Harcourts agent Graham McLeod who has been operating in the township for 17 years, says he has noticed a “drift north” from areas around Whenuapai and Kumeu.
Gunton says NZRPG’s aim is to “create something that people are proud of and want to be part of. This takes time and where we give it time we’ll get the right result.”