Taking on the grey tsunami challenge

Last updated 13:00 14/01/2013

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OPINION: Nelson's draw for retirees is as plain as a sunny day.

Despite having to hand back the sunshine title to Whakatane, it remains a leading retirement destination for its climate, landscape, amenities and lifestyle.

As the "grey tsunami" builds in New Zealand over the next 20 years, the region's pull among the over-60s will only get stronger.

By the late 2020s there are forecast to be a million New Zealanders aged over 65, outnumbering children.

It's a demographic inevitability that brings both opportunities and challenges.

Retirement home providers are already acting on the forecasts, with multimillion-dollar developments planned in the region.

Work will start this week on the latest stage of Summerset's large-scale retirement village in Stoke. A two-storey, $10.6-million care and amenities building will provide a focal point for the $80m project that will eventually accommodate up to 400 residents on an 8-hectare site.

The new building reflects the evolving demands of retirees. Along with a range of apartments and a 38-bed centre that provides up to hospital-level care, there will be a cafe, hairdresser and offices.

In Nelson city, the Oceania Group has just lodged another bid to redevelop its Green Gables retirement village in Bridge St.

A 2008 application was withdrawn after it met local opposition over its plan for a four-storey central building that residents felt was out of kilter with the suburb's low-rise character.

The revised plan is for a three-level central building in the middle of the complex that will be buffered by villas around it.

It remains to be seen whether that will appease locals.

But the project's revival demonstrates the confidence in the industry that demand for a range of retirement accommodation will continue to grow.

The implications of population ageing for the region and the country are wide-ranging, affecting everything from how to afford a national superannuation scheme and meet extra health costs to ensuring an adequate supply of carers, suitable public transport and even enough land for cemeteries.

Locally, the Nelson City Council's "framing our future" strategy is looking at these trends, a prudent move given the city will be at the forefront of the elderly wave.

Alongside that growth, the region will have to further develop strategies to ensure the city's growth is not too imbalanced.

A vibrant community also needs young workers and families with access to affordable homes and well-paying jobs.

The summer return home of students from other parts of the country provides a welcome injection of energy, and part-time labour. Many will naturally seek advanced education and career opportunities in bigger cities.

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But if we had the industries to keep more here, the economic and social dividends would be great.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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