The results fo New Zealand’s first census in seven years (due the Christchurch earthquake) have been awaited with anticipation for some time now.  The results show a significant shift in population from the provinces to the country’s largest city, Auckland.  The Auckland City Council’s chief planning officer, Dr Roger Blakeley, has also said that a special Statistics NZ projection out to 2041 predicts that Auckland’s share of national growth will rise to a whopping 75 per cent. 

Perhaps concerningly, the population declined in most rural parts of the North Island and in many larger regional centres as well, including Rotorua, Whakatane, Gisborne and Wanganui.  It is clear that Auckland continues to be New Zealand’s dominant population force, and the proportion of the country which lives in its largest city has been gradually increasing.  Auckland accounted for 75.8 per cent of New Zealand’s total population growth between 1997 and 2001, 49.8 per cent of growth in the five years to 2006, and 51.6 per cent of growth in the seven years since then.  

However, despite a larger share of the population as a whole, Auckland’s growth is actually slowing.  The census has proved the city’s growth was much less than projected, and called into question Council plans for expensive transport projects based on the now void high growth projections.  For example the Auckland Council has made controversial plans to increase high-rise apartments in previously suburban areas and to construct an expensive city rail loop to ease congestion.

It is also interesting that the census data reveals that New Zealand gained 7000 people a year from migration between 2006 and 2013 – which is less than a third of the 23,000 gained per year between 2001 and 2006.

It is difficult to project whether Auckland’s population will remain stable, but the provinces in Auckland and slowed population growth around the world, make issues such as supporting an expensive inner city rail loop – the dilemma Auckland faces – pertinent for all major cities.  If population growth slows or even falls, will cities be able to continue to afford their infrastructure?  Are cities also taking into account the fall in the working population, given that it is primarily this section of society who uses facilities such a public transport?

Over and above such issues, it is necessary to ponder the effect of increased urbanisation for New Zealand.  Traditionally, farming is the country’s economic high performer – dairy farming in particular.  If other services do not remain in the regions as increasingly people move to Auckland, how might this affect New Zealand as a whole, given no doubt many farmers depend on the existence of these services.  This is definitely something for New Zealand to consider in the years ahead – especially given almost every night on the New Zealand news there is the complaint that land is at such a premium in Auckland that no one can afford a house there!  Should the government really help people to buy in Auckland as is being suggested? Or would it be better for New Zealand to instead attract people back to the provinces where houses are very affordable given the lack of demand.


Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...