Northland Inc, the regional council's economic development arm, wants to find out whether there's a viable market to build a retirement village in Dargaville as part of a plan to lure a growing number of semi-retired workers keen to quit the rat-race in Auckland.

The local body agency has issued a tender for a feasibility study into developing a high-end, community-based retirement village in Dargaville on behalf of the town's newly formed community development board and Kaipara Grey Power who expect it would "yield both private and public benefits for the area".

Dargaville supports 10,000 people including the rural district communities while Kaipara has a population base of 17,000, with a growing proportion of elderly residents, and a shortage of housing and facilities has been identified by a number of health organisations in the area, the tender document said. At the same time, cheaper real estate and a lower cost of living are predicted to create growing demand, which is currently only catered to by three existing sets of units and two rest home facilities.

The study wants to determine whether the proposed market is suitable for a retirement village development, which previous investigations have estimated would cost between $3 million and $5 million, and identify the economic and social impacts a project would have on the region.


Northland Inc chief executive David Wilson told BusinessDesk that Auckland's rapid house price appreciation has had a halo-effect in other regions as people look further afield, but that the project was also part of a wider pitch to try to attract semi-retired New Zealanders in the "55-plus age group which are still pretty much engaged but are cashing up and heading north."

Wilson said he's not a "doomsdayer" when it comes to the country's ageing population, as "over-65s have an awful lot to offer, particularly in rural areas."

David King, corporate affairs manager at Ryman Healthcare, the country's biggest listed retirement village operator and developer, said Dargaville was too small for a Ryman village, though the study may be of interest to other operators, while Metlifecare chief executive Glen Sowry said his company was focusing its efforts in Northland at its existing Kerikeri site which is currently being expanded.

A spokeswoman for Summerset Group said the company won't comment on specific investment opportunities but noted Northland is experiencing growth similar to that in Hamilton, Christchurch and Auckland, where "the population of older people will grow substantially, and our existing villages in these regions are experiencing strong demand". Summerset will "continue to monitor the region, and others, closely for potential investment opportunities," she said.

While Dargaville is too far away from Auckland for a regular commute, Northland Inc is trying to drive greater connectivity in the region with the addition of 20 new towns included in the extension of the government's ultrafast broadband programme, and the landing of the Hawaiki trans-pacific cable at Mangawhai Heads south of Whangarei.

Wilson said Northland Inc is investigating how it can use the landing site of the cable to give the local economy a boost and is in talks about setting up a data centre, though he didn't provide more details citing a non-disclosure agreement.