Kerikeri has long enjoyed a reputation as a great place to retire. Its sub-tropical climate and small town ambience with big town services make it very attractive, but what has been a steady stream of arrivals over recent years is about to become a "silver tsunami," according to Kerikeri Retirement Village chief executive Hilary Sumpter.

"We have two options," Ms Sumpter said.

"We can make do as best we can with what we've got, or we can catch the wave and make the most of the ride."

Kerikeri Retirement Village has chosen the latter.

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Kerikeri Retirement Village chief executive Hilary Sumpter - the land supply isn't expanding, but the demand for retirement accommodation is.
Kerikeri Retirement Village chief executive Hilary Sumpter - the land supply isn't expanding, but the demand for retirement accommodation is.

Today it is unveiling plans to buy as many as 42 neighbouring properties — a process that has already begun — as part of an expansion programme that will ultimately provide 200 more independent living units for up to approximately 250 retirees. The number of beds in its care facility will also increase, from 66 to 100.

The plan was to grow "reasonably rapidly", Ms Sumpter said, although there were no firm timeframes. And it had assured its neighbours, via a series of community meetings, there was no cause for alarm.

"We have no intention of putting the hard word on anyone to sell," she said.

"We will simply be there as a willing buyer if and when anyone in our area of interest wishes to sell."

That area of interest included Wendywood Lane, Stella Drive, and the southern and western sides of Hawkings Cres. The Village would pay fair, competitive prices for properties, Ms Sumpter added, but would not pay over the odds, given its obligation to its residents to act with prudence.

It would use the land to build architect-designed retirement villas in varying configurations, and several apartment units like the one soon to be built on Kerikeri Rd.

Some intensification was inevitable, but the Village's vision was of a "naturally occurring retirement space", integrating seamlessly with the wider Kerikeri community. That included the retention of green spaces.

"It's important to remember that retirees are part of our community," Ms Sumpter added.
"They must be able to interact with that community, just like everyone else does. The fact that they've reached retirement doesn't mean they should be locked away."

Meanwhile, the Far North was not immune from rapid global escalation of demand for aged care and retirement accommodation. Demographic modelling by the Far North District Council predicted a 52 per cent increase in the number of over-65s living in the district in the next 10 years, with a quadrupling of those over 85 in the next 20 years. Both rates exceeded the national average.

"It's time we as a community had a sensible discussion about how we're going to manage this demand," Ms Sumpter said.

"The clear expectation in the Ministry of Health's Healthy Ageing Strategy, of December 2016, is that aged care providers and local government will meet the need for retirement accommodation and aged care."

The 'and local government' part was important, she said, and the Village was urging the council to bring some focus to the issue quickly, before it began overwhelming community infrastructure.

Mayor John Carter had initiated preliminary discussions with stakeholders, but the Village was urging councillors and council management to ensure staff were aware of the pressing nature of the issue, and empowered to work with the sector to put the necessary plans in place.

"We are playing our part with the vision we are outlining here, but we cannot be responsible for the demands and pressures that looking after our community's elderly will inevitably put on this district's infrastructure. That is clearly the council's statutory obligation," she said.

"Establishing Retirement Zones would be a good start. That would make planning a lot easier, as would the appointment of a council planner with specific expertise in the field of retirement accommodation."

It wasn't only retirees themselves who would put pressure on existing infrastructure though. Every 100 independent residents generated 64 jobs, directly and indirectly. Growth in the aged care sector meant more jobs, more education and training, and GDP growth from construction and an expanded population base.

"There is a significant social and economic upside to this 'silver tsunami' for the Mid North if it can be properly harnessed," she said. "And what we're embarking upon now isn't about getting the jump on other providers, whether they are here already or might look to come here.

The Mid North is fast becoming a retirement Mecca, and we welcome other providers with open arms.

"How will our town and our district react to this tsunami? Will we mend and make do, simply to survive the wave, or will we surf it and make the most of the ride?"