Franz Josef potential for development boom?

A construction company wants to extract gravel from a West Coast river to meet the growing demand for property development at Franz Josef.

However, a local real estate agent says property interest remains low for the settlement, but there is some interest in sections.

The area is at risk of natural hazards, with people living on the south bank of the nearby Waiho River facing potential relocation if a council proposal to release the stopbanks goes ahead.

B and K Carson Contracting wants to extract gravel from the northern side of the Waiho River for property development in Franz Josef.

Business co-owner Kelly Carson said residents were moving to the area from big centres like Auckland.

People are either looking for a retirement pad or a viable lifestyle option including working from home or an at-home business option, she said.

The company has applied for consent to remove gravel for building work around Franz Josef including developing driveway access and subdivision work.

"There's actually a lot of people buying property down in Franz Josef at the moment. It's quite interesting," she said.

At the same time, existing subdivisions on the northern side of Franz Josef were filling up, she said.

The question about the future of the Waiho Flat area on the south bank of the Waiho River — home to a mix of residential, lifestyle and rural blocks — would add to the pressure, Mrs Carson said.

However, Ray White agent Shelley Bainbridge, of Hokitika, said while she had noticed increasing outside interest in sections at Franz Josef, it was not a huge trend.

"Things are still a little bit quiet. We've got more sections than houses, but the sections there get a bit of activity."

Mrs Bainbridge said she had sold quite a few properties in Franz Josef in the past four years but it had quietened recently although things were looking up further north in Hokitika.

"I have sold a couple to Auckland people in the last 18 months … there is a lot of out of town people making inquiries."

Westland Mayor Helen Lash said there has been an accommodation shortage in the area for hospitality workers, and increasing interest in property in the area.

"I'm thrilled and couldn't be more pleased that things are still happening there.

"Franz isn't stopping — people are still passionate about the place," Mrs Lash said.

She acknowledged uncertainty remained over the natural hazard status of the entire area.

In 2016, a report by Tonkin and Taylor for the West Coast Regional Council recommended shifting the town due to the natural hazard risks.

The regional council also recently announced a proposal to release the stopbanks, starting in about five years, on the south side of the Waiho River to give the northern bank township about 20 years more.

Mrs Lash said more land needed to be developed at Franz Josef as Waiho Flat residents would need to relocate due to the stopbank release.

"There is a lot of good homes there that could be relocated but we've just got to find the land."

She acknowledged it was not clear the whether control of that, including the natural hazard implications, would fall to central government or local councils.

The Westland District Council would work through the application of new natural hazard requirements in the proposed new combined district plan (Te Tai o Poutini Plan).

Mrs Lash said this would be to ensure people's aspirations in Franz Josef did not go beyond what would be permissible.

By Brendon McMahon