Expanded Westgate a new Newmarket?

Published 19 December 2008

While much of the property industry is on its knees, NZ Retail Property Group Ltd (Mark Gunton & Bryce Donne) has 2 of the country’s biggest development plans in progress and realistic prospects of starting at least one of them by the end of next year.


Retail Property Group has a $700 million portfolio and will increase that to $1 billion with the Westgate Town Centre & Milford developments.


The company bought the Milford & Highbury shopping centres on the North Shore last year, has put redevelopment of Highbury on the back burner and is awaiting resource consent & a plan change to progress the revitalisation & comprehensive redevelopment of its 2.9ha Milford site, where it wants to add 200 apartments in 3 towers above the shops.


Project director Allan McGregor said in support of those planning applications: “We believe the transformation of the Milford Centre site will serve as a catalyst for wider public & private investment to the benefit of residents and secure Milford’s future as a premier suburb on the Shore.”


But that ambitious scheme is small beer compared to Retail Property Group’s plans for the expansion of its Westgate centre, at the end of Auckland’s North-western Motorway.


The company began developing its 12ha shopping centre in the 1990s, always with the belief that it would eventually fulfill Waitakere politicians’ desire for Westgate to become the third major hub in west Auckland.


With a few “ifs” to overcome, work should start late next year on making that dream a reality. One of the “ifs” concerns trade competition – the battle between the Progressive Enterprises Ltd & Westfield NZ Ltd belief that retail development should be centres-based, versus the Foodstuffs (Auckland) Ltd belief that it should plant its supermarket boxes where it seems appropriate.


That contest stopped Foodstuffs from building its Wairau Rd supermarket for nearly 15 years, and from opening the one it has built for another 3. In the west, the same contest is being played out in submissions on Waitakere City Council’s plan change 15, covering Westgate but currently referred to as the Massey North plan change.


Another of the “ifs” concerns the Auckland Regional Council’s recent preference for development along strategic corridors, one of which is Lincoln Rd, between the North-western Motorway & Henderson town centre. Trying to develop a corridor that runs for more than 3km, with commercial buildings erected right to the pavement and all the way along the corridor, seems an unlikely prospect but is one that is being seriously considered.


In contrast, Retail Property Group has succeeded in developing a more natural – & walkable – town centre at Westgate than most of this country’s private developers have done, and plans to do an even better town centre job on 40ha north of the present end of the motorway, beside the motorway extension and at the junction with the new State Highway 18 coming from the North Shore.


The future plans depend on plan change 15 being put in place quite quickly, followed by resource consents which the company can not seek until the plan change is in place. Those plans envisage the existing centre being expanded across the present Highway 16 to Kumeu, a special industrial employment area being developed to the north beyond a buffer zone, and intensive residential development beside the expanded town centre.


Outsiders might mock, but Retail Property Group sees the potential for a Newmarket at the top of the motorway. Like Newmarket, developed into a prime retail & business centre decades ago because all traffic went through it, Westgate is planned to be a major business centre for the north-west, at a junction on new arterials.


Mr McGregor wants to be able to start earthworks by late next year so the main part of the new town centre can be completed by 2012, shortly after completion of the State Highway 18 link, ahead of completion of the extension of State Highway 20 bringing traffic from the airport through to Waterview by 2015.


“It will start to rationalise the catchments between north & west. For people who live in Greenhithe, shopping here becomes an option instead of going to the North Shore. Commercial office also becomes a choice.


“For industry it could also be a choice. North Shore is full, the next is Silverdale and this will have 50ha set aside for industry. In 3-4 years, that could be gone.”


Mr McGregor said Retail Property Group had funding lines in place for the development and its existing Westgate centre was already attracting some major retail names, moving in to get a feel for the district. Hallensteins was an example, moving out of Takapuna to Albany, Glenfield and now Westgate.


“I think those retailers will come out here (to the existing centre) because ultimately they’ll move across the road (to the new town centre). They’ll try out with a 2- or 3-year lease first.”


Councils & their planners often looked at a full picture of intensification, seeing office buildings, even office parks, without working out how to get there. Mr McGregor said getting retailers in would fix the first stage, the ground floor. “Then everything else will follow. And why is it a good retail site? Because of its location – we get 4-6 million visitors a year now for 45,000m² of commercial, predominantly retail, space.


“The expansion will have 65,000m² of office & 100,000m² of retail and it’s planned, whereas Ti Rakau Drive in Manukau, for example, was more higgledy-piggledy in its development. This will also be more easily walkable than Sylvia Park, which is 600m long.”


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Attribution: Company presentation, interview, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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