Auckland’s ‘Westies’ grow in sophistication


West AucklandThe stereotype of “Westies” as a tribe of uncouth, mullet-cut, black T-shirt-wearing, working-class, V8 drivers is taking a hammering from newcomers to Auckland’s burgeoning north-western suburbs.

However, the families who are moving into the new developments share the positive character traits of the people who settled the West, according to research commissioned by the developers of the massive Westgate retail and commercial hub, NZ Retail Property Group (NZRPG).

“The old Westie is about straight-talking, pride in the region, lack of pretention and full of character,” says Sara Johnson, the company’s general manager of marketing – and a local.

“The new Westie has these qualities and values the qualities and assets in this region.”

The company’s research, from residents’ focus groups, reveals a new breed of Westie with a high level of sophistication. “They are looking for more quality, variety and choices in food and entertainment,” Johnson says.

“The Wild West is no more. The people are quite different from the bogun-style Westie portrayed by television’s Outrageous Fortune and Westside.

“It comes through strongly in the research that the new West Aucklanders’ expectations are high. As one focus group member says: ‘I don’t want to drive to Ponsonby to have a good meal; I want to have it in West Auckland’. They expect it to be in West Auckland and we need to understand that in forming a town centre.”

However, the new arrivals appreciate what’s already available in the Northwest, defined as Massey North, Whenuapai, Kumeu-Huapai, Riverhead, Coatesville, reaching out to Waimauku, Muriwai Beach, Hobsonville and Helensville.

“It’s always been an area with a strong heritage of people working the land – farms, orchards and vineyards – a hard-working area focused on good produce, selling to Auckland,” says Johnson. “People coming here are enjoying the lack of pretentiousness and huge range of the fruit and vege shops and vineyards and appreciation of natural assets.”

The gateway between metropolitan Auckland and this green hinterland of vineyards and orchards is Westgate Town Centre, according to the research.

“It’s not a pop-up town,” says Johnson. “We bought the land back in 1997 and started retailing in 1998. The last 10 years has been dedicated to the planning and developing of the larger Westgate that you see now. We are expecting a further 10-15 years of development and our approach is to answer the demands of the community as we go.”

So far, the focus has been on retail and commercial use of its 56ha greenfields site, strategically placed to serve a catchment filling with thousands of new homes and close to the North Western and Upper Harbour motorways.

NZRPG plans its own residential development but the land nearby has consents for 5000 new homes. Not far away, Hobsonville Point is quickly growing towards its target of 4500 homes and 11000 residents, served by two new schools. Johnson says, as a local resident, she is proud to see the company’s aim of creating a Northwest “shop, work and play” destination is happening.

“Growing up here, it was accepted we had to drive to Henderson or Albany to get basic things. Now it’s exciting and feels like luxury to have the benefit of the mall and more lifestyle shops opening in the town centre.”

What makes her smile is people developing an affection for the centre as it grows in response to the community’s needs. She says working with Auckland Council to plan for those needs is foremost.

The council has built roads and a town square in the midst of retail and dining quarters and has embarked on building multi-million dollar facilities fit for a thriving metropolitan centre – a library, community centre and parks. The case for a swimming pool is being investigated because a city the size of Whanganui is forecast at Westgate.

It’s bearing out the vision of West Auckland’s civic leaders, a decade ago, to set up a town centre and community facilities. They wanted to foster economic development and provide locally-based employment for residents who spent many hours a week stuck in motorway traffic on a long commute to work in central Auckland.

Westgate Centre is expected to generate 8500 jobs in commercial and retail sectors alone.