$700m boost: Council boss heralds new era of growth for Whangarei

6:09 pm on 31 January 2020

The face of Whangarei is set to change dramatically in the next decade in the wake of the Government's $700 million Northland roading and rail infrastructure spend.

Whangarei's Te Matau a Pohe bascule bridge over Whangarei's lower Hatea River.

Whangarei's Te Matau a Pohe bascule bridge over Whangarei's lower Hatea River. Photo: Northland Advocate / Michael Cunningham

"The days of Whangarei being a quaint provincial city will be a thing of the past," Rob Forlong, Whangarei District Council chief executive said yesterday.

"We'll be a major urban centre in the next 10 years, more likely to be like Tauranga or Hamilton," Forlong said.

This week's major roading, rail and other Government infrastructure spending announcements would accelerate the district's already significant population growth.

The"fantastic" boosts to the city were on top of other Government spending including the Hundertwasser art gallery and Whangarei Town Basin plus other private hotel investment and more, Forlong said.

That growth would be further compounded should Auckland port shift to Marsden Point and the Royal New Zealand Navy to Port Whangarei.

The district's population will jump to about 120,000 by 2030 - without the port shift or navy," Forlong said.

"That figure would be even higher, should the Marsden port and New Zealand navy developments eventuate.

"Then our district's population would jump to about 140,000 by 2030," Forlong said.

The population increase will see a 45 percent jump in the district's population density. It's currently 0.35 people per hectare. This will climb to 0.51 people per hectare with 140,000 people in the Whangarei district.

Forlong said up to 17,000 extra houses would be needed, should Auckland port to Marsden Point development and navy shift to Whangarei happen. At 120,000 people, there'd still be about 12,000 extra houses.

Dramatic population growth has already taken place in Whangarei.

Northland is already New Zealand's fastest-growing region, growing by 18 percent over five years to the latest 2018 New Zealand Census to 179,000 people.

Population figures for Whangarei have jumped by about 20,000 people in just six years - from 86,800 in 2013 to 96,000 in 2019.

Forlong said Ruakaka/Marsden Point would in particular grow dramatically - by about 400 percent to 30,000 from its 5000 people currently. This would happen even without Auckland port shifting to Whangarei.

Whangarei District Council chief executive Rob Forlong.

Whangarei District Council chief executive Rob Forlong. Photo: Susan Botting / LDR

The new Whangarei to Marsden Point roading development would result in increasing development along the new 30 kilometre stretch of road between those two points.

Forlong said the growth would bring some growing pains for Whangarei.

He said it was important for Whangarei to get used to the idea of what would be happening. There was no going back.

"People need to recognise there will be change and that this will be difficult at times,"Forlong said.

One change would be that people would need to get used to more trains travelling through Whangarei. The Government yesterday announced a $109 million spend on boosting the rail line north of Whangarei, turning the Otiria rail yard in Moerewa into a container port for the first time.

This would mean more trains travelling along railway lines through Whangarei.

Shifting the city's Onerahi airport, big new roading development, more underground infrastructure for wastewater and stormwater were among things that would be needed to meet the growth resulting from this week's announced projects' infrastructure spend.

New schools, or major extensions to existing schools, would also be needed.

Careful growth planning would be required. The council had already done a lot of work in this area and this would be continuing.

WDC councillors will next week meet to consider again the council's growth strategy, looking at spatial planning for how growth is managed in specific areas of the district.

Forlong said the district's infrastructure was reasonably well placed to meet the demands it would face as a result of the significant growth.

Information messaging indicating toward the growth had been coming out of Central Government for some time.

Projects boosted

WDC had already boosted some of its infrastructure development projects as a result. One example of this was the upsized new $25 million Whau Valley water treatment plant; its size increased in expectation of major new population growth over and above what might earlier have been used as the basis for its specifications.

Forlong said some infrastructure projects would now need to be upsized.

"We need to do bigger things for more people."

District roading was already in the council's sights for more infrastructure development work. This infrastructure aspect would become even more important.

Larger arterial roads would be needed.

People would need to get used to more roadworks being around over time.

Forlong said the growth would bring new challenges for Whangarei.

"In the time of the global financial crisis Whangarei had high unemployment and the town was struggling. These problems are slowly dropping away," he said.

They would instead be replaced with issues such as housing shortage, roadworks, people digging up the road and skills shortages.

These were all part of making the most of a huge opportunity the district now had.

Forlong said the growth would bring huge benefit for Whangarei.

The implications for this and how it was managed needed to be carefully considered.

"We need to make sure we manage this growth and don't lose the things we love about Whangarei."

Environmental considerations were crucial. Whangarei's environment needed to be protected.

"We've got some fabulous beaches for example."

The new $692 million Whangarei to Marsden Point road will include a walkway.

This would encourage people to look at alternative forms of transport, an essential also being considered by the council as another option for dealing with the challenges growth created for the district.

Forlong said the week's Government infrastructure spending announcements were the result of massive team effort from a big number of Northlanders over many years.

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