Cromwell 'the place to be’

Cromwell’s strong growth is the catalyst for industrial 
Cromwell’s strong growth is the catalyst for industrial development and new residential subdivisions. Photo: Lynda van Kempen

Central Otago has a rapidly growing economy and Cromwell appears to be outstripping the rest of the district. Is it leaving the rest of the district in its wake? Reporter Lynda van Kempen takes a closer look.  

Cromwell has stepped into the spotlight and shows no sign of leaving the stage any time soon.

The town is experiencing strong growth, its population is increasing and building permits issued in Cromwell made up 44% of the total issued in Central Otago last year. Permits were granted for 106 new homes in the town last year - 65% of the homes being built in the whole district.

School rolls are growing, the wine, fruit and tourism industries are thriving and the place is buzzing, local leaders say.

Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper says Cromwell is certainly ‘‘leading the way'' in Central Otago and has been for some time.

‘‘It's the place to be, no question about that.''

Initially, Cromwell had gained an advantage from its strategic location between Queenstown and Wanaka but it had now built up momentum and was responsible for its success ‘‘in its own right'', he said.

‘‘There's a lot of go-getter people there and we can certainly all learn from the communication demonstrated by the vibrant business community and the entrepreneurship shown in Cromwell.''

He scoffed at suggestions the town was leaving Alexandra in its dust and said Alexandra was also ‘‘doing all right''.

In fact, all of Central Otago was reaping the rewards of a healthy economy, Mr Lepper said. Cromwell and District Promotions Group chairman Terry Davis also dismissed any talk of competition between the two towns.

‘‘In all honesty, I don't think they're rivals; they're quite different. Alexandra has some wonderful features and they're different to the wonderful features Cromwell has.

‘‘I don't think it's about one district leaving the other in its dust, or getting ahead at the expense of the other. They're complementary.''

He said the group would like to think its promotional activities were having a positive impact on the the growth of Cromwell ‘‘but the reality is, it's probably got more to do with our geographical location and natural assets''.

‘‘From our central location, we're set up perfectly to cater for and provide services to Central and the Southern Lakes geographically.''

Cromwell attracted residents because of its great community feeling, he said.

People moving into the area were ‘‘your everyday Kiwi''. Some of the ‘‘imports'' were from overseas but the majority were from other parts of New Zealand.

The new residents covered the spectrum, all ages from all walks of life, couples and families, drawn by the outdoor lifestyle, the climate and the sense of community.

Gordon Stewart, who has been a real estate agent in the town for about 25 years, says Cromwell's annual total of building permits included about two new house permits a week - about 98 permits a year.

‘‘When you've got building like that in your community, everyone gets busy.''

Mr Stewart, a Cromwell Community Board member, said the town had steadily grown since 2011, although it had been through ‘‘ups and downs'' before that.

The increasing demand for homes meant real-estate stocks were at an ‘‘all time-low'', he said.

Basic sections priced at $125,000 six months ago were now selling for $175,000 because of increasing demand.

‘‘That does force up prices a wee bit but Cromwell is blessed with good land stocks so there's plenty of room to build.''

So does he expect the bubble to burst any time soon?

‘‘No. It would need something major to happen first.''

Board chairman and Central Otago Deputy Mayor Neil Gillespie said Cromwell's growth had been steady over several years.

Its growth was not at the expense of any other area - the whole district was benefiting.

Cromwell was not a satellite town of Queenstown or Wanaka, he said.

Although some Cromwellians worked in those towns, they took an active role as members of the Cromwell community.

‘‘And not everyone wants to live in a tourist Mecca - our housing is much more affordable than those places.''For its size, Cromwell punched well above its weight, Mr Gillespie said.

Factors in the boom were Cromwell's place as the hub of Central Otago, its vibrant business community and growth in the viticulture and horticulture sectors.

‘‘The great thing about growth is all the opportunities it brings us.''

Builder Steve O'Callaghan, of O'Callaghan and Walker Builders, said those in the construction industry were busy catering to the demand for houses, alterations and extensions. There had been steady growth for several years since the last recession and it followed on from growth in Queenstown Lakes and Wanaka.

‘‘Things will probably drop off again but there's certainly confidence around at the moment.''

His building firm was one of the larger ones in the district, employing 13 staff. Skilled workers were hard to find but the firm was fully-staffed at present.

The demand for building services meant some clients wanting homes would be waiting seven or eight months before construction would begin, he said.

All three Cromwell schools have had classrooms just built, under way or planned, to cater for roll growth.

Goldfields Primary School principal Sharon Booth said a classroom was being built and a prefab was being used in the interim for extra space.

‘‘Cromwell is just buzzing at the moment. I've been here for 34 years and this is the busiest I've seen it. Lots of families are shifting in - we've got 11 new pupils this term from other areas who have shifted here. Their parents are moving here for different reasons but mostly for work opportunities.''

Facilities to cater for the growing population range from a retirement village to another early childhood centre.

Earthworks would be under way by April for the $60 million retirement village, which included 94 homes, and a hospital and care building, one of the project's backers, Neil Bulling said this week.

In another part of the town, the frame is up for the Willows Early Learning Centre, which is expected to be open by mid-April.


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