A new era for historic Hobsonville Airbase began today with the turning of the first sods for the start of earthworks for development of a new community – Hobsonville Point – on the 167 hectare upper Waitemata Harbour site.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley test-drove a 13-tonne digger at the special ceremony before handing back the controls to contractors Dempsey and Wood, which will complete civil works and construction on the first stage of the project, Buckley Precinct at Hobsonville Point.

Buckley Precinct covers an area of 60 hectares, comprising 1080 dwellings, shops, two schools and day care facilities. Construction of the first 660 dwellings is expected to start mid-2010 with occupation by the first residents early in 2011.

Hobsonville Land Company (HLC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Housing NZ Corporation, is leading the planning and delivery of the redevelopment of the former airbase in partnership with Australian-listed company AVJennings, which in turn will partner with local builders to deliver the project.

The Crown-led development, which is the first example of a public private partnership of this type, will provide a valuable stimulus to the local economy through creation of new jobs, utilisation of local builders, suppliers and services, and the provision of true high speed broadband as part of the infrastructure roll-out.

“I’m very proud to be launching one of the first public-private-partnerships of serious scale in this country, following the model’s long track record of success in delivering infrastructure in many other countries,” Mr Heatley said.

HLC Board Member and Chair of the HLC and AVJennings Hobsonville Point Management Committee, Mr Richard Didsbury, says application of best practice in urban design and modern environmental principles at Hobsonville Point will create a living and working environment which enjoys great amenities.

“Our challenge is to ensure development of a high quality environment at Hobsonville Point which will engender a real sense of belonging and pride amongst those living here, an environment in which a vibrant, cohesive community can thrive. To achieve this, the Board has taken great care to anticipate the needs for schools, social services, sports fields, community facilities, consulting with stakeholders and working with government.”

AVJennings Chief Executive Mr Peter Summers says the fit between his company and Hobsonville Point is ideal. "In Australia, AVJennings is an iconic name in residential property development and we intend carrying this quality brand into New Zealand through our partnership with Hobsonville Land Company," he said.

"We have extensive experience in comparable scale developments which we have brought to successful completion on time and on budget. We’ve also worked in partnership with governments to ensure the visionary aspects of projects are achieved. As such, we are very excited to be partnering with Hobsonville Land Company to jointly develop Stage 1 of the Buckley Precinct."

A number of initiatives are already underway to get the site ready for the first residents. Historic Sunderland Lounge is available now to the public as a community hall. A new primary school is expected to open in 2012 and Buckley Precinct will have access to walking tracks, cycleways, playgrounds, and tennis and basketball courts. Landscaping and planting is underway to enhance the site’s unique features.

Planning has also started on the redevelopment of the waterfront landing area, which will have a new wharf for a ferry service to downtown Auckland. The Auckland Regional Transport Authority has committed to starting the service in late 2011.

“Our vision is that the Landing will become a focal point for the community and a place that attracts people from all over Auckland to the vibrant mix of cafes, shops, markets and events,” says Mr Didsbury.

A steering group, comprising Guardians of the Upper Harbour, local ratepayers and residents, and a range of other stakeholders, has been set up to ensure users’ needs are met. Options for a public marine facility at Hobsonville Point are also being explored.

Providing opportunities for local employment and contributing to the regional economy are key objectives of the project.

Development of the 20-hectare marine industry precinct and other associated business opportunities are expected to create an estimated 2000 full-time equivalent jobs on site with opportunities for ongoing, local employment.

Mr Didsbury says HLC is also looking at another exciting opportunity to leverage community training and environmental benefits from supply of plants for the development jointly with EcoMatters Environment Trust, Gecko Trust and Waitakere City Council.

“We envisage the establishment of a trust that will be based on site and facilitate plant-related learning and training. It will also play a key role in supply of plants to the development.”

Consultation with the Historic Places Trust, local community groups and iwi is ongoing to ensure Hobsonville Point builds on its rich cultural history to create a distinctive identity, says Mr Didsbury.

“We want to ensure that Hobsonville Point’s future reflects its past. We are planning a historical trail to draw out iwi, air force and other connections, acknowledging the haukainga (home people) of the area. We are also in discussion with Defence and Hobsonville Old Boys on construction of a memorial to reflect the air force heritage.”

Mr Didsbury says the project’s success to date has been achieved through the co-operation and involvement of a range of organisations and individuals.

“Our vision and objectives for Hobsonville Point can only be achieved with this kind of involvement and we plan to establish a Community Liaison Management Group soon to prepare a management plan for implementing community facilities at Hobsonville Point as well as providing a community voice into ongoing planning.”