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Horowhenua’s Wayne Bishop Group among top 10 busiest builders in NZ

Levin building heavyweight Wayne Bishop knew things were cranking along, but even he was surprised to see his company ranking among the top 10 busiest residential home builders in New Zealand.

Wayne Bishop Group, which built 159 homes in the past year worth $44 million, keeps company in the big pond now with the likes of GJ Gardner Homes and Fletcher’s, according to the latest Building Construction League list.

“I never knew they ran a list like that,” he said.

“We’re just a little local business building houses in our own town. What it does show though is that we are able to compete on a national scale, doing it in our own backyard.”

Bishop would be acutely aware just how much his business has grown, though. The company and its subsidiaries now employ more than 200 staff and it is the town’s third biggest employer behind Alliance Meats and the Horowhenua District Council.

With a number of consented developments in the wings, things are only getting busier, including a new three-storey 144-apartment retirement block.

Wayne Bishop Group Ltd has appeared in a top 20 list of New Zealand's busiest residential builders for the year ended March 2024.

Work on the new 16m-high, 150-wide serviced apartment block starts this week. It will have provision for 100 hospital beds and be finished by 2027.

Speldhurst country estate in Kimberley Road was the company’s largest development to date with 450 houses, and growing. That work schedule was in spite of StatsNZ data showing national building consent applications are down by 25 per cent on the previous year.

“We are growing through the current downturn because of the strength of our forward-work programme and the ability to deliver it,” he said.

“We’re not spooked. We have the ability to pivot, no matter what the market is doing, and that’s the way to keep things rolling.”

Speldhurst, built on the site of the former Kimberley State Hospital, continues to expand, and the group has a number of other smaller developments planned for Levin and districts, a mix of social, starter, and retirement homes.

The scale of scheduled work created certainty for staff. The group had “absorbed” 11 different local companies in the building and construction industry which had joined the group because work had dried up.

There were now landscaping, cleaning, plumbing, joinery, frames and truss, flooring, scaffolding, painting, architecture divisions within the company, which opened a new indoor construction plant in Levin in partnership with Placemakers a year ago, increasing capacity.

Wayne Bishop (left) and Placemakers' chief executive Bruce McEwen.

“The future looks rosy because once the new expressway is finished, thousands more people are going to want to live here because of the affordable housing opportunities.”

“I have got a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy and we work hard to do that. It’s a turn-key package and 75 per cent of our clients come from out of the district.”

“We have planned for 1000 houses ... we have $500m worth of work ahead of us in this district.”

A big source of satisfaction for Bishop is the number of apprentices who have been through the company. Currently 30 more were serving apprenticeships across the trades. He said there was provision for more apprentices to come onboard.

“The racehorses go off to university but there exists huge opportunities to gain a career in the trades and we have gateways programmes with schools here,” he said.

Bishop himself served a four-year apprenticeship with Ross Crowe Builders on leaving Horowhenua College and started his own company in 1992.

He described his apprenticeship, which was served in the aftermath of the 1987 stock market crash, as giving him a good grounding. Building work had stagnated in Horowhenua at the time and most of the work was in Wellington.

Not long out of his apprenticeship, he drew up his own plans and successfully tendered for the contract to build a block of apartments in the city. He hired “a dozen” staff, and the work kept coming from there.

Back in Levin in the late 1990s, he built Rosewood Park, a 36-unit housing block in Queenwood Rd, and since then has continued to concentrate on a number of developments in his home town, including a recently completed social housing complex in Hinemoa Street.

Property developer Wayne Bishop, Muaupoko Tribal Authority chief executive Di Rump and Salvation Army social housing national director Greg Foster at the opening of the Hinemoa Street housing complex.

Bishop served three terms as an elected member of the Horowhenua District Council, stepping down in 2022.

During his time he was successful in having a development contribution levy on building developers rescinded to stimulate the local economy, as there was little or no growth in the district at the time.

Times have certainly changed now, though. There are current estimates that an additional 25,000 people could be living in Horowhenua by 2040.

The council reintroduced the development contributions levy in 2021.

G.J.Gardner Homes remains New Zealand’s busiest house-building business, building 824 homes in the year to March with an estimated $437m.