Tamworth, Armidale set for population surges

TAMWORTH, Armidale and Inverell lead the charge in population growth estimates in the next 20 years, but five council areas across the north are expected to go backwards.

The steepest growth is expected to be in Armidale, but expected population increases in Tamworth will drive its total up to nearly 70,000 by 2031, according to statistics released by the NSW Department of Planning.

It forecasts a 16.3 per cent increase of the 2011 census figure of 58,350 over the next 16 years – but former mayor and Evocities chairman James Treloar reckons it’s definitely understated.

Cr Treloar, who has led the alliance of the seven regional Evocities to attract more people from metropolitan areas for seven years, believes Tamworth has the potential, and will do better than the projections.

“I’d suggest they have miscalculated by a fair amount, if that’s what they’re projecting for us,” the Tamworth regional councillor said late yesterday.

“They seem to do that regularly with their statistics, they just come up with these amazing formulas. And it’s a regular occurrence where there’s a very conservative prediction that we are growing at about 0.9 per cent a year.

“I don’t know why they are predicting a downturn in our growth.”

The latest report suggests Armidale will grow by some 6500 people by 2031 at an annual rate of 1.1 per cent, or 25.8 per cent overall.

But there’s gloomy news for the Gwydir, Moree, Glen Innes, Narrabri and Walcha shires, which are forecast to see a big population drift away. The latest figures suggest Tamworth’s annual growth to then will be just 

0.8 per cent, even lower than the last projection. 

Cr Treloar said Tamworth had achieved growth rates of more than 1.25 per cent recently and at one stage, for for about three years in a row, was growing above the Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour figures and seeing population boosts of 1000 people a year.

“But they have this tradition of underestimating our growth and I would say they’ve done it again here,” he said.

Cr Treloar said it was vital state planning figures were accurate.

“It’s pretty important they get it right – it’s the basis of planning for things like schools, medical facilities, things like that. If they don’t get it right then they will have issues when it comes to their own budgeting, in particular, areas like law enforcement, and we would tend to be disadvantaged in things like teaching, health and law enforcement,” he said.

The latest figures are also at odds with those recently available on the department’s planning website. 

Those 2013 statistics preceded the final 2014 ones – but they showed a significant disparity in population growth for places like Uralla, Inverell and even Tenterfield, where much brighter trends were detailed.

Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall says there’s definitely a bright side for some strong growth in his electorate areas.

“The report projects that the eight local government areas in the region will collectively grow by 9.5 per cent, or an extra 7250 people, by the year 2031,” Mr Marshall said.

“The Northern Tablelands is predicted to have a population of 83,850 people in 2031.”

He labelled the Northern Tablelands as an “oasis of growth” in country NSW and said the report was fabulous news for the region, but also critically important, as the department’s population projections were used to calculate government spending and investment over a wide range of services.

Mr Marshall, like Cr Treloar, has in the past criticised the figures as being at odds with data produced by the Australia Bureau of Statistics that would give a more accurate picture of the future. He believed this was much more accurate than figures produced last year that suggested a decline in population in the Northern Tablelands, which didn’t square with anecdotal evidence from local communities or the ABS population data.

“In fact, the opposite was true. I’m very pleased to see that we now have a far more accurate snapshot of our region and its future – one that’s robust and growing, not declining, as the department’s figures suggested last year,” Mr Marshall said.