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Thousands of people are expected to abandon rural communities in the central North Island by 2031, Statistics NZ figures show.
Thirteen districts stretching from South Taranaki in the west to Opotiki in the east are expected to shrink, shedding about 19,000 people.
Ruapehu District is expected to lose about 3700 people, or a third of its resident population, by 2031, although the council contends this must be balanced by increased visitors and temporary residents.
Rangitikei District is projected to lose about 2350 people or about 18 per cent.
This contrasts markedly with the major cities, all of which are expected to grow steadily.
Statistics NZ's Kim Dunstan said the districts projected to lose people were contending with an ageing population combined with migration losses.
Young people were leaving rural districts to move to bigger cities or overseas and were not being replaced by new migrants, he said.
"It can be a double whammy because there is the loss of these adults and also their potential offspring."
But some rural districts were more bullish about their future, claiming the figures represented only a "do nothing" scenario.
Opotiki District is expected to lose 20 per cent of its population by 2031 but mayor John Forbes did not believe it would happen.
Several projects under development, including an irrigation scheme, would spur economic and population growth, he said. "If nothing changes we will be in gradual decline, but we are hoping these developments will turn things around."
In South Waikato, projected to lose about 18 per cent of its population, mayor Neil Sinclair was equally upbeat. "If we don't do something it will happen, but we are not sitting on our butts."
Increased conversions from forestry to dairy farming had brought in new families and it was hoped high-speed broadband would entice lifestylers working remotely into the district, he said.
AUCKLAND TO GAIN
Auckland's population is expected to be pushing two million in 20 years as people abandon the central North Island.
Statistics New Zealand predicts nearly four out of every 10 New Zealanders will call the Auckland region home by 2031.
The country's population is expected to reach 5.19m people during that time.
Today, there are more than 4.4 million people in New Zealand.
Last year, 34 of every 100 people living in this country were Aucklanders. By 2031, 38 in every 100 Kiwis will make that claim.
"Auckland has a slightly younger population than other regions, and younger populations tend to have more births and relatively fewer deaths," population statistics manager Andrea Blackburn said.
The city is joined by Queenstown Lakes, Selwyn and Waimakariri districts as the areas with the highest projected population growth rates over a 25-year period from 2006 to 2031.
Meanwhile, 13 districts stretching from South Taranaki in the west to Opotiki in the east are expected to shed about 19,000 people.
Christchurch, which lost some 8900 people in the year ended June 2011, was projected to grow by 1500 a year during 2012-16, and then 2500 a year from 2017 to 2031.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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