The results of New Zealand’s first census in seven years (it is usually every five years but was postponed due to 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.  

It is clear that Auckland continues to be New Zealand’s dominant population force, and the proportion of the country which lives in the country’s largest city is 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.  Auckland City Council’s chief planning officer, Dr Roger Blakeley, has also said that a Statistics NZ projection out to 2041 predicts that Auckland’s share of national growth will rise to 75 per cent by that time. 

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 particularly worrying that those that migrate to larger cities tend to be of working and child-bearing age, leaving the provinces with a higher proportion of retired people.  This is not conducive to their growth, or that of the businesses within them.  

While obviously the regions with declining populations are concerned, the effect of increasing urbanisation affects New Zealand as a whole.  Traditionally, farming is the country’s economic high performer – dairy farming in particular.  If other services do not remain in the provinces 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.  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.

However it is interesting to note that, despite a larger share of the population as a whole, Auckland’s growth is actually slowing.  (This parallels New Zealand’s growth rate – national annual growth drastically slowed from 58,000 people a year in the period 2001-2006 to 31,000 people a year in 2006-2013.)  The census has shown the city’s growth to be much less than projected, and called into question Council plans for expensive transport projects based on the (now incorrect) 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 as a whole 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 slowed population growth around the world in many major cities make issues such as supporting an expensive inner city rail loop – the dilemma Auckland faces – pertinent.  If population growth slows in the future in the world’s major cities or even falls, will they be able to continue to afford their infrastructure?  Additionally, are cities also taking into account the expected fall in the working population, given that it is primarily this section of society who uses facilities such a public transport?

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...