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City population overload

26 September 2007

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Melbourne could need to house another 1.2 million people over the next 25 years amid an unexpected influx of migrants that is helping to swell Victoria's population at a record rate.

New figures show the boom exceeding the predictions of government planners, with Melbourne on track for a population of almost 5 million by 2030.

In the year to the end of March, the state's population grew by 74,431 — or more than 1400 people a week — with most of the growth in Melbourne.

The population explosion will compound anxiety about urban congestion, housing affordability and water security, while adding to pressure on the State Government over how to manage it.

The figures were released on the same day that The Age revealed controversial plans by developer Delfin to build a new mega-suburb to Melbourne's north, outside the official metropolitan growth boundary.

The latest population figures prompted claims yesterday that Melbourne 2030, the Government's metropolitan growth strategy, was flawed and already out of date.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, migration accounted for 58 per cent of Victoria's population growth in the year to March 31, with a net gain of 42,897 foreigners. There was also strong "natural" increase, with births exceeded deaths by 31,131. But there was a net loss of 1844 people to other states, mainly Queensland and NSW.

Population is also surging elsewhere in Australia, with the national increase estimated at 307,100 — the largest annual rise since record keeping began in 1789, two years after the arrival of the First Fleet.

The Housing Industry Association's Victorian director, Caroline Lawrey, said the supply of new houses was clearly "totally insufficient" to meet the state's population growth, and called for greater incentives for medium and high-density accommodation.

"We are already building fewer houses than we need for the current population," she said. "We are getting quite concerned that in Victoria … as demand increases and supply decreases we will be seeing increasingly unrealistic prices."

BIS Shrapnel senior consultant Angie Zigomanis said overseas migration had not been so strong since the late 1980s. The difference now was that most migrants were skilled, which tended to place a greater strain on inner-city housing.

The bureau predicted that Melbourne's population could hit more than 4.9 million by 2031, compared with around 3.7 million today.

State Opposition planning spokesman Matthew Guy said the figures showed Melbourne 2030 was "fundamentally flawed" because it had grossly underestimated population growth. The plan originally envisaged total growth of about 1 million by 2030.

"Labor has set aside enough new land for 225,000 Melburnians and expects more than 700,000 people to be accommodated in existing suburbs," Mr Guy said.

"However, we will have to accommodate more than a million people in existing suburb developments, which means more high rise and far more high-density construction."

Jessica Walker, a spokeswoman for Planning Minister Justin Madden, said Melbourne 2030 was flexible enough to absorb additional population growth. "We have always planned for greater housing growth in the first half of 2030 than the second half," Ms Walker said.

Mr Guy also seized on the Government's refusal to rule out Delfin's proposed new suburb, saying it showed the weakness of its policies. "The Government said the urban growth boundary was for keeps," he said. "The reality is that no one believes that … so the urban growth boundary policy has turned into a joke."

Under the plan, farmland would be turned into a "green" suburb named Lockerbie, housing up to 35,000 people.

Mr Guy said the plan looked "quite attractive" with its proximity to airports, freeways and heavy rail, but the Government's planning policy did not allow for this sort of development. He called for greater flexibility.

Greens planning spokesman Greg Barber said the plan should be rejected due to its environmental impact, and that there was plenty of developable land within the boundary.



Births 65,725

Deaths 34,594

Net overseas migration 42,897

Net interstate migration -1844

Total 74,431*

SOURCE: ABS Figures are 12 months to March 31 and do not tally precisely due to different census data. 


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