Shrinking population may slow growth

17:00, Jul 22 2014

Marlborough's population growth is in decline and the Marlborough District Council will need to carefully consider the consequences of that.

Council analyst Stewart Sargent told yesterday's assets and services committee meeting that the council would need to be cautious about approving too many new subdivisions if they were not close to existing housing, because that could require the council to spend large amounts on water and sewerage services that could not be recovered from development contributions.

There was "no problem" with the new residential housing zones, he said, but if those zones were developed in a piecemeal way rather than in a plan, it would be expensive.

"If we do the first cab off the rank, and then nothing else happens, that's a very expensive process. We could have buried pipes in the ground that are never needed . . ."

The changes in population were not uniform throughout the district, he said. As well as an ageing population, there were shifts in the number of people, too. The rural population was slowing more rapidly than urban populations, but there was a shift in the "centre of gravity" of the Blenheim-Renwick and Picton-Waikawa urban areas.

If people were living more on the periphery, it was more expensive to maintain water and sewerage piping at high levels out to the edges of populated areas.


As well, the number of people living in each house was dropping, which had implications for service provision.

The data from last year's census had been a "shock" in the lower-than-expected population growth and the effect this had on estimates of future needs in the district.

Sargent said the decline in population growth was "a bit curly" and if not a wake-up call, it was something the council needed to take into account.

He recommended that the council stay flexible and not spend money unless it was "absolutely necessary".

Assets and service committee chairman Terry Sloan said the changing population projections were a "red flag" for the council, particularly with proposed development.

Assets and services manager Mark Wheeler said the council could put the brakes on if there were concerns about development and flow-on costs to services.

"We don't want to say no to development, but we would bring the potential costs to [the] council."

Similar situations had occurred about 10 years ago, he said, when a development was proposed that was greater than the services in the area could cope with. .

Sargent said the projections were "not all doom and gloom, say Marlborough's heading for collapse, we should shut up shop".

"We just need to be careful. Have a plan, keep things flexible, and don't say no. I hope we get economic development that enhances the region."

Projecting was not forecasting, it was based on history, he said. "It's like driving a car in the rear view mirror, based on the road behind you. It's hard to do."

The Marlborough Express