Vast Whitford Forest blocks for sale

5:04 AM Saturday May 14, 2016 Colin Taylor

An aerial view of Whitford Forest with the townships of Maraetai and Beachlands (at right) in the foreground.

Whitford Forest on Auckland City’s southern boundary is for sale with the long-term prospect of land being rezoned for residential development to help alleviate the city’s chronic housing shortage and also for a recreational park.

The forest comprises two separate blocks totalling 1683 hectares about 30 kilometres drive south of Auckland City. It stretches from the green-belt commuter township of Whitford Village to the coastal settlement of Maraetai.

The two blocks are now being jointly marketed for sale by Bayleys Real Estate and Colliers International, with registrations of interest being taken through until August 3. 2016.

“The blocks can be purchased combined, separately, or as individual titles,” says Peter Sullivan of Bayleys.

He says around 1270 hectares of the Whitford Forest terrain is planted in radiata pine trees aged between nine and 36 years old. Harvesting of mature plantings is currently underway, with the process expected to take a further 10 to 15 years due to the size of the forest.

The forests’ current harvesting programme calls for the logging of 50,000 tonnes per annum for at least the next 10 years. Significant portions of harvested forest have been replanted in Manuka, and a short term licence granted to a beekeeper for the joint-venture production of honey from hives in the hills.

The two forestry blocks have been owned by private Canadian Investment firm FCMI Financial Corporation since 1997 through its New Zealand registered company Whitford Forest Holdings Company (WHFC).

Sullivan says that under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) the majority of the two Whitford Forest blocks had been designated for Mixed Rural zoning, with a smaller portion of the Countryside Living zoning.

“Any new owner of these vast blocks would most likely be taking a long-term view of the development opportunities. With appropriate logging activity management, the deforestation activities could be managed into the medium-term until such time as alternative land use options are consented,” he says.

Sullivan says WHFC has previously lodged an amendment claim to the PAUP requesting the re-designation of some of the forested area adjacent to the Maraetai boundary to Residential use, to enable the organic growth of the community.

He says a future urban zone classification permits the development of social infrastructure which supports the establishment of new communities – including residential development, retail and business activities, schools, healthcare facilities, roads, electricity sub-stations, parks, and public transport hubs.

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Whitford Forest in the background with Clevedon township in the foreground below.  

“The Maraetai and nearby Beachlands conurbations have expanded considerably over the past 16 years – in line with the growth of Greater Auckland. Much of the growth has been residential expansion, so there is a backlog in the provision of social infrastructure. Alleviation of that backlog has been hampered by unavailability of land,” Sullivan says.

“Opening up land immediately adjoining Maraetai’s existing housing hub would certainly deliver the space required for retail and business activities. Land higher up the rising hillside and across the ridge could then sustain some degree of residential housing development.

“Potential changes to the zoning will provide investors with an opportunity to unlock more value through alternative land uses. The blocks offer the prospect for housing development – ranging from cluster housing and the extension of coastal villages through to country living.”

Sullivan says a low density housing model would work on the steeper terrain with lifestyle block sized sections the most likely configuration. Roading infrastructure for converting both forestry blocks into residential subdivisions was already well formed through the metalled logging routes used to haul out trunks over the past 20 years.

“Much of the landholding is made up of north-facing slopes offering outstanding views to the Waitemata Harbour, the Hauraki Gulf islands, and Auckland CBD,” he says.

“Both blocks also have multiple entry points from public roads encircling the hills. Under PAUP zonings, the Te Maraunga Block could sustain the construction of about 180 dwellings.”

Josh Coburn of Colliers says the final version of the PAUP would dictate exactly how many sections could be created and under what size configuration.

Coburn says there is also the possibility that neighbours with existing lifestyle properties adjoining the two forestry blocks could look at forming a syndicate to buy specific sites. The Waiho and Te Maraunga blocks are made up of 20 individual titles.

“Under the consortium model, expansion of Brookby Quarry, which sits alongside the western section of the Te Maraunga block, would also be a potential land use option. “Geological reports indicate there is a bountiful aggregate supply within the locality which would sustain the enlargement of current open cast mining activities,” he says.

“Auckland Council’s parks, sport and recreation division is aware of the role which Te Maraunga plays in the region for recreational activities such as mountain biking, mountain walking, horse riding, and archery. Whitford Archers Club and the Pohutukawa Coast bike Club both have access licences to use various parts of the blocks.

“Given the scale of the block, this could also raise the opportunity that some of the land could be used for the creation of a commercial recreational park similar to Woodhill Forest north-west of the city.”

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Peter Sullivan of Bayleys (left), and Josh Coburn of Colliers International (right)