Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern picked up a shovel and turned the first sod of dirt to signal the opening of Tara-Ika - the largest residential development in the history of Horowhenua.
Prime Minister Ardern was formally welcomed onto the site on a mown paddock in the middle of Brendon McDonnell's farm, one of the properties that make up the planned development between Queen Street East and Taraura Road.
The Prime Minister expertly navigated her way through what was a freshly mown paddock in the middle of development site.
It was fortunate the weather was kind and the sun was out to bake the ground, as the paddock had been used to graze stock just days earlier.
She joked that every politician was liked a good sod-turning before congratulating the people involved in the planning of Tara-Ika, in bringing it a "shovel-ready" stage.
The Prime Minister said she was acutely aware of the growth forecasts for the region and she looked forward to returning "not just houses, but homes", and the Government was keen to support growth regions like Horowhenua
In August, the Government announced it would fund up to $25 million through the Crown Infrastructure Partners to fast-track infrastructure to support the residential development like Tara-Ika.
Now, following on from the site blessing, pōwhiri and spade-turning ceremony, work will start on the construction of infrastructure for the 420 hectare Tara-Ika residential development on Levin's southeast boundary.
With the first sods now turned and formalities done, work starts on constructing infrastructure tomorrow.
The proposed development will be home to approximately 2,500 homes, parks, reserves, a local shopping centre, and a primary school. Water and sewerage infrastructure will connect to Levin's existing infrastructure.
As part of the construction, new stormwater retention areas will be built alongside roads, roundabouts and a shared pathway.
Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden said Tara-Ika is a transformational project that will directly employ up to 280 people in fulltime roles across the four-year life of the project.
"It is an exciting red-letter day," said Mayor Wanden, "and, as a result, Levin's population will grow by about 5,000 people in a few short years," he said.
"It's estimated that we will need up to 400 new homes a year to meet the demand for housing. Tara-Ika will help us meet some of the demand, with the rest spread across growth areas in the district."
Horowhenua District Council Chief Executive David Clapperton said the government funding is in the form of grants and loans, which will be repaid by those who develop Tara-Ika.
"The funding provided is two-thirds of that required for the whole project. Next year, through the Long Term Plan process, we will consider the mechanisms to fund the whole development so that it does not fall to ratepayers," he said.
Mr Clapperton said the Horowhenua Alliance will deliver the first stage of the project. Work will start in Council road reserve and will ramp up in 2021 as the finalised route for the Ōtaki to North of Levin Expressway is confirmed.
"We're working alongside Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency as it prepares to build the Queen Street / SH57 roundabout, and together we'll build another one at the Tararua Road / SH57 intersection," he said.
Meanwhile, the Proposed District Plan Change 4 is currently out for public consultation.
Mr Clapperton said that process is robust and will work its way through a public submission period, a summary of submissions for public inspection, and a hearing for any submitters who wish to speak in support of their submission, before Council makes a decision.
"Growth has both opportunities and challenges and housing is a big pressure point for Horowhenua," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern afterwards.
"The local council already has done significant work regarding the infrastructure needed to support Tara-Ika. In partnership with them and others the government can help achieve such developments.
"This will lead to more homes, which are badly needed in Horowhenua, but also jobs and ultimately education opportunities."
She said she is aware the area needs more provision for healthcare and said talks are under way with the DHB about that. "We have already increased funding for DHBs and at the same time we are also making sure that that model does work."
About the increase in the minimum wage and the sick leave entitlement for employees the prime minister said the Government always looks at the wider benefits of such decisions before implementing them.
"People who earn more will spend more and often locally. The increase in sick leave is the minimum entitlement. Employees can already accumulate sick days to a maximum of 20 days and that has not changed."
When it comes to public transport the prime minister said the Capital Connection has had extra money to facilitate better public transport and the Government has invested $211 million for line upgrades around the country in anticipation of more trains.
"As part of that the storage facilities in a few places like Levin have also been upgraded."