11 Nov 2020

Fuelled by people and growth, Tasman is now larger than Nelson

2:28 pm on 11 November 2020

Nelson is no longer the largest centre in the top of the South Island.

Richmond housing development

Richmond housing development. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Its neighbour, the Tasman District, is now bigger, with more people and more growth, and Marlborough, on its other flank, is now catching up.

One of Tasman's newest arrivals, Joseph Callinan, hit the jackpot and moved from Auckland to Golden Bay.

"Well, I won money at the SkyCity casino - quite a bit, and it was a bit of a mid-life, really," he told RNZ of his reasons for moving south.

Callinan got lucky, but others hoping to own a home in Tasman were watching the dream fade.

It was now the second least affordable region in the country for buying a house - Auckland remained top of the list, and Nelson City was third.

Median house prices in Nelson-Tasman have increased by around 60 percent in the past five years.

In Tasman it is now close to $650,000.

Berryfields development Richmond.

Berryfields development in Richmond. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Local property agent Debbie Cooper has been selling houses for a decade and said people seemed desperate to buy in the region.

"There is a frenzy at the moment with this whole fear of missing out, and people are making very quick decisions - almost rash decisions in terms of the way they're presenting offers."

Sarah Foote, 27, and her fiancee have bucked the trend of younger people struggling to get on the property ladder.

They bought their first home in 2017, in a Nelson suburb, for $400,000.

"The first house we looked at was the first house we put an offer on and we actually managed to get that house.

"We were lucky but I know other people at the time were definitely having a bit more trouble."

They sold it recently for a little more, allowing them to buy land in Tasman, where they planned to build new.

They were part of a trend that has seen Tasman's population grow to almost 55,000 - passing Nelson, at almost 53,000 people.

The Nelson-Tasman annual monitoring report to June this year showed that from 2013 to 2019, both regions achieved population growth of between nine and 12 per cent against the national average of 1.4 to 2 percent.

Nelson waterfront from sea

Nelson waterfront from sea. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Cooper had a theory on what was driving Tasman's growth.

"Tasman is far more attractive to families. House prices are still continuing to go up but you're still getting more bang for your buck - you're still getting larger sections and larger houses."

But there was another reason - the lay of the land.

As Nelson struggled to unlock its hills and valleys for tricky to build properties, housing development in flat Tasman was racing ahead.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese.

Rachel Reese. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said the region would need to house more people within existing constraints.

"We are reasonably densely populated in terms of flat land, but what we know is there is greater opportunity for intensification.

"We're working actively with the development community on intensification."

That alone was unlikely to meet the needs of the region, Reese said.

"So we're working with opportunities for further land supply. We're expecting to see a significant proposal for the Mahitahi/Bayview development. We're expecting to see that come to the council over the next few months."

The proposal would require the council to re-zone land off Nelson's Maitai Valley which has drawn environmental opposition.

Ngāti Koata was a partner in the consortium that owned the land which could lead to the development of up to 700 new homes.

The head of its commercial division, Hemi Toia, said the chance to create housing opportunities was significant not only to Whakatu/Nelson, but to iwi.

"Our ability to be involved as a co-owner, which means we're at the decision-making table, enables us to also bring some of our vision and thinking to it in the environmental space as well as the social ... and who knows how the cultural space may highlight or manifest itself in this."

Foote said no matter how hard it might seem to find a house, her advice to young people was "don't give up trying".

"Once you're on the property ladder it's an amazing thing to be on and it's a good achievement.

"Don't get too discouraged - just keep on going to the open homes and keep on putting offers in."