Regional imbalance getting worse

Erik Olssen
Erik Olssen
The imbalance between Auckland and regions such as Otago is becoming more pronounced, a Royal Society of New Zealand report shows.

''Our Futures: Te Pae Tawhiti'' uses data from Census 2013 to highlight what New Zealand society might look like and the challenges it faces.

Pulled together by a panel, including University of Otago emeritus professor Erik Olssen, the report reviews data on seven key themes - diversity, population growth, tangata whenua, migration, households and families, regional variation and work.

It found regions such as Otago faced ongoing challenges as Auckland continued to grow, attracting more businesses and a concentration of skills.

''There is an emerging imbalance in the country between Auckland ... and the regions which is most marked in rural areas.''

Canterbury and Southland grew due in part to the turn to dairying, while Central Otago, including Queenstown, grew but at a slightly lower rate, and coastal Otago hardly at all.

However, overall internal migration between regions decelerated, the report said.

These changes meant councils would have increasing difficulty in maintaining service levels for an ageing and possibly dwindling population, Prof Olssen said.

''Maintaining infrastructure needed economically will become more difficult for ratepayers to sustain.''

The reluctance to accept the withdrawal of local infrastructure would become more intense rather than less.

That raised the question of whether the Government needed to plan for ''red zones'' for councils not able to meet their responsibilities, he said.

Recent floods which had damaged Northland roads highlighted this.

''In some rural areas, roads are already too costly for locals to maintain, even though they are essential to present-day activities.''

The imbalance was contributing to ''resentful'' feelings some provinces had towards what was happening in Auckland, Prof Olssen said.

''We hope it contributes to the debate on the issues we need to think about and talk about.''

Royal Society president Sir David Skegg, of Dunedin, who wrote the foreword to the report, said New Zealand's population was in a period of rapid change, with implications for the economy, social cohesion, the place of Maori, education and health.

It aimed to promote informed discussion on the changing nature of New Zealand society, he said.

rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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