Auckland can look skyward to cope with growth

NICOLE PRYOR AND BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2012

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Auckland can handle its population surging to 2 million over the next 20 years if it uses space more efficiently, a population change expert says.

The number of Auckland residents is set to boom, to the point where by 2031 nearly four in every 10 New Zealanders - or 2 million - will call the city home.

At the same time New Zealand's population will increase from 4.4 million to 5.19 million.

At the moment there are about 1.5 million Aucklanders.

To cope with growing pains, Auckland has plans to intensify, which means more upward growth than outward sprawl.

Currently, of Auckland's 1.5 million people, 1.4 million live in existing suburban areas.

According to the Auckland Council's 30-year plan, up to 70 per cent of new dwellings will sit in the city's existing urban areas.

Ward Friesen, a senior lecturer with Auckland University's School for Environment, said that with good planning, Auckland should be able to cope with a bigger population.

“Personally I think we can live with a denser city,” he said.

“If we're looking at pushing our boundaries out that could be a problem for house prices, but with what's being done on public transport nodes, I don't think it is a problem.”

Dr Friesen said cities like Vancouver and Sydney had similar situations and managed by using space within the city walls more efficiently.

"Potentially schooling could be an issue - it can be planned for but some areas may grow more than expected,” he said.

“But in the CBD, it is usually inhabited by tertiary students and professionals, so it won't be a problem for primary and secondary schools.”

Public transport could be a problem when it came to funding, he said, especially if ratepayers were expected to foot the bill for tunnels and railways when they already paid fuel taxes and income tax.

Auckland's Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse, agreed the population projections highlighted a need for investment in the city's infrastructure.

“If people think congestion is bad now, imagine what things would be like with two million people living here."

Warkworth, to the north, and Pukekohe, to the south, have been identified as growth centres.

CENTRAL NORTH ISLAND TO LOSE 19,000

Meanwhile, thousands of people are expected to abandon rural communities in the central North Island by 2031.

Thirteen districts stretching from South Taranaki in the west to Opotiki in the east are expected to shrink, shedding about 19,000 people, Statistics NZ figures show.

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.

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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.

- Fairfax Media

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