Missing Census data may hurt Christchurch

A proposal to shift to a 10-year census could seriously affect Christchurch's recovery, critics say.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said in July 2011 the Government was considering holding the census once every decade.

Currently conducted every five years, the census helps determine electoral boundaries and funding for services like district health boards, schools and the police.

The 2011 census was deferred to March this year because of the Canterbury earthquakes.

A Statistics New Zealand spokeswoman said yesterday the department was still looking at how the census was carried out.

"All aspects of the census and how it is delivered is being looked at, from the frequency of the survey through to how information is gathered," she said.

Canterbury District Health Board member Andrew Dickerson said he was concerned about the proposal for a 10-yearly census.

"I don't believe that the seriousness of this issue, and the impact these changes could have on the recovery in Christchurch, have been fully appreciated."

This year's census could show a small decrease in the region's population, but Dickerson said he expected the population would recover quickly as the city's rebuild kicked in. "If we don't have another census until 2023, the distribution of public funding may not take account of this rapid recovery and the future growth in our population," he said.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said Christchurch was already living with the consequences of a delayed census.

"I'm not criticising the delay that we've had because obviously it was done for the right reasons. We would have got a very distorted view if it had gone ahead in 2011."

However, delaying the census by two years did cause problems, particularly for this year's local body elections, she said.

"The election will be based on boundaries that aren't where people are living. I think that's going to be a bit of a shake-up," she said.

"I'd really want to see a good case put up for a delay. We've had the schools shake-up landed on the city without the benefit of knowledge about where the settlement patterns are going to fall and that's wrong."

Labour statistics spokesman Raymond Huo said a 10-yearly census would reduce costs to Statistics New Zealand, but it was "not that straightforward".

"I think [Williamson's] idea is half-baked at best because it's not that simple," he said.

"The key drivers are cost constraints and the demand for more frequent detailed and accurate statistics. Particularly for the Christchurch area, we need more frequent and accurate data."

Green Party Christchurch spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said making the census 10-yearly could disadvantage Christchurch in particular because it would overlook potentially significant population changes in the city over the next few years.

"One of the reasons for not closing Belfast's Ouruhia School, for example, is potential roll growth from the Prestons and Belfast subdivisions. Five-yearly census information will help confirm that," she said.