The prospect of the New Zealand Defence Force selling its $100 million-plus naval base site on Auckland's North Shore has estate agents and developers salivating at the prime beachside land's development potential.
While the Defence Force says it has no plans to mothball Devonport Naval Base, where it has links dating back 177 years, it has confirmed an investigation into the costs and feasibility of moving elsewhere in New Zealand.
Navy chief of staff Commodore Ross Smith today said ports outside Auckland are "at least hypothetical candidates" in the study entitled, 'The Future of Devonport Navy Base', including Picton where a 2013 inquiry estimated a move would cost $655m.
The plans "clearly show" that Picton or neighbouring Shakespeare Bay could accommodate a naval base, with deep berths, sheltered waters, two harbour entrances, and being ideally located in the middle of the country within 35km of RNZAF Base Woodbourne.
"From an engineering and environmental perspective [a naval base] looks positive," said Port Marlborough chief executive Rhys Welbourn, who said he would welcome talks with NZDF officials. Lyttelton Port said it's had no approach from the Defence Force.
Last year, NZDF's property portfolio at Devonport, which includes barracks, a gymnasium, and other buildings and infrastructure, was valued at $352.785m.
Top Auckland estate agent Graham Wall described the 15-hectare navy site "an incredible, magical piece of land" that could be transformed into multi-million dollar mansions and apartments, along with top-end shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants.
It could become a residential "paradise", Wall said, with potential to rival Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, or Sydney's stylish Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo where Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe has an 11-bedroom penthouse apartment.
"We sometimes screw these things up in New Zealand but if you put together a dream team of visionaries and big thinkers, guys like Peter Cooper who developed Britomart and Simon Herbert of Bayswater Marina, it could be something really special," he said.
Under the Auckland Unitary Plan, the base's land has different zones allocated to it, including open space, conservation, sport and active recreation, business, light industry, mixed use, and residential.
The most recent median house price for Devonport is $2.05m, while it's $2m for Stanley Point.
"You could anticipate that any residential property sold within the base would have a similar price point," said Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) chief executive Bindi Norwell.
"Much of the land has extensive water views, so is likely to include a premium price to be attached to the land."
While Wall said the land would sell for "well in excess" of $100m, REINZ came up with a "conservative" figure of $182m.
But Norwell stressed there is nothing else like it available, and REINZ says there has been no recorded sales of bare land in the affluent suburbs of Devonport and Stanley Point in the past 12 months.
The Defence Force plans for Devonport, Norwell said, would be "closely watched" by residents, developers, conservationists, and town planners.
Defence Minister Ron Mark expects to receive the feasibility study, which he said supplements the work on the future of the Ports of Auckland study, later this year.
CONTEXT BOX – DEVONPORT NAVAL BASE
* In 1841, Royal Navy officer Lieutenant Governor William Hobson establishes a permanent naval presence at Devonport.
* The Calliope drydock was built in 1888. It is still in use.
* Moving the naval base to Whangarei or Shakespeare Bay too costly, a 1998 study concludes.
* A 2013 study estimates a new Picton naval base would cost $655m and valued the Devonport land at $244m.