The first step has been made in transforming Onehunga's gritty wharf from an industrial port to a new community of homes, shops and public space.

The wharf, occupied now by long sheds, has been purchased by Auckland Council.

The deal is a deck-chair shuffle, given the existing owner Ports of Auckland is wholly-owned by the council. The council did not disclose a purchase price.

The land has sprawling views across the water to Mangere Bridge and out to the Manukau Harbour. It follows a man-made beach being put in on the Hillsborough side of the bay.

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The project to turn the wharf into a new centre may take up to 25 years and work will not start on the site for five years.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff today said the purchase will enable Auckland to enhance the great part of our city.

"Onehunga Wharf is an historic part of Auckland and the Manukau Harbour…we want to ensure that this heritage, that has so much potential, is retained so Aucklanders can enjoy it for generations to come.

"We've been working for years on developing Onehunga's potential as a key destination in Auckland. From the reclamation of Onehunga's waterfront to the introduction of light rail, these changes will be transformative for Onehunga."