new auckland

Vineyard to satellite city - the new Kumeu

Kumeu is 25 kilometres north-west of Auckland central. It is growing so fast that its Wikipedia page is out of date. Now you can get caught in a 10 kilometre traffic jam trying to get in. Its main street is over-populated with eateries - many of them leaning on the gourmet side. Housing construction is obvious from the highway - thousands of new residents are flooding in as developers take advantage of the city's Unitary Plan. Jostling uneasily with the uniform-style homes with their pocket lawns sit vineyards, farmland, tractors and sheep - for now. And up the road where the Kumeu Show is held in February, is a new money generator - the Kumeu Film Studios. 

Retailers are revelling in the growth, and in the bit of Hollywood glitter being spread around by the arrival of a major industry player. But some long-term residents are watching in horror as the city comes closer to the country, hemming in their pieces of paradise. All of them are in despair over the lack of infrastructure - in particular, public transport - that is not keeping pace with the change in both Kumeu and its next-door neighbour Huapai. 

Allen’s Village Pharmacy has been owned by Simon Allen for the last 25 years. “When I first came here there wasn’t even a set of traffic lights," he says. "It was a real back-block - it’s changed a lot. So many houses put in that the roads can’t keep up with them. A lot of new families have moved in. It’s been steadily building. Auckland’s extended out to Kumeu really. 

“We’re still classified as a rural pharmacy placement when it comes to students from Otago. That’s pushing it a bit now."

Kumeu Cellars, the liquor store, has an extensive range of top shelf liquor, but that's not reached for by the stars. Whenever there’s a production in town, says duty manager Munish Sharma, it’s the craft beer that flies out the door. “And sometimes gifts as well.” Sometimes you can tell a customer is from the KFS by their security badge, but they’re always secretive about what they’re up to. He says the shop sees a lot of new customers but that’s largely attributable to the influx of new residents. “Last year was good, when Meg was being shot. Our craft beer went really well. We had a lot of customers from Wellington.” 

Changing the landscape - density has come suddenly to Kumeu and Huapai. Photo: Alexia Russell 

SuperValue manager Aayush Sabharwal hasn’t been around long, but long enough to figure out when there’s a big value production being shot across the road. The traffic - foot and car - increases dramatically. At the moment for example he knows, in spite of the attempts at secrecy, there’s a big Disney thing happening - something to do with China. (It’s Mulan.) “It’s quite nice to know there’s a big banner movie being shot just across the road.” 

The office of Harcourts real estate agent Andrea Turzynski looks out to the footpath where crew from the KFS walk down in search of a superb gourmet pie or some sushi from next door. “I’ve seen the people walking through the village, wandering around sometimes. You know how someone looks familiar and you’re wondering if they’re an old friend and then you realise ….. when they’re in town you certainly notice. The odd one who’s going to be here for quite some time might come in, for a rental or occasionally to buy a house they’ll use for three years. There are a lot of set builders and the like … it’s money into the local economy.” Turzynski knows the Mulan production isn’t here at the moment - it’s moved to the South Island - but that production is so big a slice of the Kumeu Showgrounds it has been carved out as an extra carpark. Turzynski says in the last five years things have really amped up - “the speed at which houses are going up … they’re talked about for years and years and suddenly they’re there quite quickly". Harcourts has established a new branch in the area of Chinese agents - “they’re doing really well”. And there’s constant traffic now - she gestures outside at the chocked main road - come 5pm it’s even worse. 

Andrew Hemingway timed his project well. The Pie Shop has been open for three and half months, and Hemingway says when they first started there were queues out the door. “The locals have been really fantastic,” he says. Hemingway believes that quite by accident he got in on the cusp of change, with huge density starting to hit. From Titirangi originally, he remembers Kumeu as being the region’s fruit and veg basket, with “all the -ic’s” - a reference to its Dalmatian vineyard past. He says having the film studios in Kumeu gives the place a buzz. Sometimes people will come in to the shop in head-to-tail makeup. “For local business it’s great - and they realise that they do have an impact.” The studios are friendly and engaging, and will let him know when they were going away for a while so he can adjust production. But while the KFS business is a bonus, Hemingway says “we’re going to be huge” anyway.  

There are a host of other companies thriving because of both the development and the film studios. Catering companies, timber and building suppliers, office support services, Hirepool, concreters and plumbers, Ashton Cranes - all of these and more are taking a slice of the action. An NZIER report from last year says the combined direct and indirect impact of the screen industry on Auckland’s GDP in 2016 was around $858 million - and the west is getting a good chunk of that. 

But there are some established residents who are paying with disruption to their country lives. 

Bunty Condon, secretary of the Nor-West Heritage Society, lives on a six hectare block that used to be a lemon orchard, and runs what she describes as an animal sanctuary. She has unsuccessfully battled the development on her back fence of the Oraha Rd Special Housing Area - 247 units on 15.9 hectares. Three years down the track, and with roads in and homes built, she hasn't given up. Her energies were renewed when she queried the strange open ended cul-de-sac on her top boundary and found out a road had been designated through her farm - a future road she wasn't told about and swears will never happen. 

In a flood plain - Bunty Condon points to the 2001 water level at her Kumeu lifestyle block. Photo: Alexia Russell 

Her rates valuation this year went up by $2 million - the price of being rezoned "future urban". She says neighbours are selling up, not because of the extra cash they can now squeeze out of their properties, but because they don't like being hemmed in by suburbia. This wasn't what they came here for. The real estate agent selling nearby properties says on its website "it's just a matter of time until this land will be developed". It also sells it as having "evolving public transport" - somewhat disingenuous given Auckland Transport's stated preference for developing the north-west corridor ahead of trains to Huapai. 

Condon's property includes a Captain Cook pig called George who likes having his belly rubbed; chickens, peacocks, and refugee geese. She says the geese came from the gully below and were chased off after a developer employed someone to shoot them, and at pukeko, because they were eating new plantings. One was wounded and they all flew off - but when the wounded bird fell dead onto her top paddock, the others dropped down and stayed. She says having them there is a win-win for her; they clean up the weeds the horses don't eat. But - "you can't go firing guns in the open near housing. That's horrific!" 

While some developments aren't unwelcome ("We do like the New World - I'll admit that") the disappearance of the region's famous vineyards in favour of roads named after grapes just doesn't cut it for Condon. The silt washing down off the development next door into her duck pond; the impossible burden of a two-lane highway for such a huge increase in traffic; the cookie cutter houses on tiny sections; the overcrowding of the local school are all a source of anguish. "There's no infrastructure for all this growth - roads, water, sewerage, public transport - we have been screaming for the last three years, 'give us train services!' - there's not even a park and ride." Trees are being chopped, and she worries that people will only find out they're sitting on flood plains in wetland areas when their gardens are underwater next winter. She bemoans the loss of wildlife habitats, the lack of horse tracks now, vines being taken out by diggers, the disappearance of frogs and moreporks. She will keep raising a ruckus about it all, but the city will continue to crowd in on her slice of country.

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