Whanganui DistrictPopulation forecast
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Whanganui District

Drivers of population change

Development history

The Whanganui District is located on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The District Council area includes the city of Whanganui and surrounding areas. The District Council resulted from the amalgamation of Wanganui and Waitotara county councils and the Wanganui City Council in 1989. The city is approximately 200 kilometres north of Wellington and 75 kilometres northwest of Palmerston North. The river which runs through the city, the Whanganui River, was a major site of pre-European Māori settlement. It was home to the Ngāti Tūpoho hapū of the iwi Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi. The Whanganui River catchment is seen as a sacred area to Māori.

The first Europeans arrived to the area in 1831 and more frequently by 1840 as mission stations were established. After the New Zealand Company had settled Wellington it looked for other suitable places for settlers. Edward Wakefield, son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, negotiated the sale of 40,000 acres in 1840, and a town named Petre – after Lord Petre, one of the directors of the New Zealand Company – was established four kilometres from the river mouth. The first settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland arrived in Whanganui thereafter. Many had already bought land from the New Zealand Company but until land sale issues were resolved most settlers were confined to town. The name of the city was officially changed to Wanganui on 20 January 1854. Wanganui was linked by rail to both New Plymouth and Wellington by 1886. The town was incorporated as a Borough on 1 February 1872, and declared a city on 1 July 1924.

By the early 1900s business in Whanganui was booming. The Whanganui River tourist trade took off, with thousands of passengers being transported on Alexander Hatrick’s riverboat fleet. Whanganui thrived as it serviced a huge fertile agricultural catchment area, rearing sheep and cattle, as well as growing barley, wheat, oats, maize, fruit and timber, even kilometres upstream from the river mouth. In the early 1900s, visitors called the Whanganui River the 'Rhine of New Zealand'—it is the longest navigable river in the country, with 239 rapids and stunning bush scenery. The town was developed and wharves established during this period. Most coastal shipping berthed just downstream from the present town bridge. The Whanganui town wharf was the centre of activity until 1908 when Castlecliff Port was developed around the frozen meat trade. The town wharf closed in 1956 as it was uneconomic to operate both ports. Whanganui has a strong industry base, with a history of niche manufacturing. Much of Whanganui's economy relates directly to the fertile and prosperous farming hinterland near the town. Heads Road is Whanganui's main industrial area and is home to a number of manufacturing and engineering operations. In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Whanganui was included in the world's Smart21 Intelligent Communities by the Intelligent Community Forum.

Migration patterns

Whanganui was a relatively compact city, with pre-1950s development being located in Central Whanganui. Other settlements within the district such as Kaitoke, Upokongaro, Kai Iwi/Mowhanau, Aberfeldy, Westmere, Maxwell, Marybank, Okoia and Fordell were established over the years and have continued to evolve over time. It was only in the 1960s and 1970s that Springvale, parts of Wanganui East and Aramoho were developed. The development of these areas occurred with relatively few constraints. A market driven approach to development resulted in sporadic development in the city and created a number of challenges for managing residential development in Whanganui. During this time, annual development rates of dwellings in the District exceeded 100 new dwellings per annum for over a decade. The population of the city of Whanganui recorded in the 1951 Census was 29,717, growing to 32,100 by 1956 and 35,694 by 1961.

In the last 20 years, published Census information shows that the population of the Whanganui District decreased slightly between 1996 and 2013 (with the population in 1996 being 46,000 and 43,500 in 2013). However, changing migration patterns, publicity and image perceptions of Whanganui and favourable points of difference such as housing affordability mean that the tide of population decrease is anticipated to change in the future. In the past few decades, the Whanganui District has gained new residents from many different places in the region and further away in New Zealand and overseas. The Whanganui District also lost residents to different places around New Zealand. Usually, internal migration (within a territorial authority (TA), region or country) is strongly influenced by age – that is – people moving to and from different places based on their life stage. Overseas migration tends to have a strong relationship with economic conditions and government policy.

In the 2008-2013 period, the Whanganui District gained 111 residents from the Rangitikei District, 108 residents from the Ruapehu District and 45 residents from Hutt City. Several other territorial authorities contributed between 15-30 residents (in terms of net gain) during the same period. The gains from areas such as the Rangitikei District (i.e. Marton, Bulls, Taihape, Huntersville) could be related to people wanting to move closer to a range of education and employment opportunities as well as an area with relatively affordable housing costs. Another age cohort from these regions that could be contributing to Whanganui District net gain are the frail elderly who may be moving closer to aged care facilities and health services in Whanganui City. The net number of overseas arrivals during the same period was 250. Note that because this information is based on the Census question “Where did you live five years ago?” it does not necessarily mean that overseas arrivals moved directly to the Whanganui District. They may have moved elsewhere first and then within those five years migrated to the District.

The Whanganui District lost residents during the 2008-2013 to large centres such as Wellington City and Christchurch City. Just over 200 residents moved from Wellington City to Whanganui District in that period but over 460 migrated the other way to Wellington City, so there was a net loss of 264 residents during this period. Christchurch City was also a net loss area, with 114 residents moving from Christchurch City to Whanganui but 249 moving from Whanganui District to Christchurch City (i.e. a net loss of 135 residents to Christchurch City). Both these migration destinations relate to availability of education and employment in bigger cities. Wellington has been a destination for younger persons studying or looking for employment for many years whereas Christchurch now also offers employment in reconstruction and the building sector following the 2011 earthquakes along with education and employment opportunities. Nearby Palmerston North City is a destination for 483 Whanganui District residents but also contributes 387 residents to the District’s population (2008-2013) so the net loss is only -96 over five years. Other notable TAs to which Whanganui District loses population to are Dunedin City (-66 over five years), Tauranga City (-57 over five years), Hamilton City (-39) with Nelson City and New Plymouth District also featuring.

Interestingly, Auckland City is a big “channel of migration” for Whanganui District residents, however, the net gain/loss is only +18 in Whanganui’s favour. One may have thought that Auckland would also feature on the list of territorial authorities to which Whanganui District experiences largest net losses to but the numbers indicate that between 2008 and 2013, 519 Aucklanders migrated to the Whanganui District and 501 Whanganui District residents migrated to Auckland, hence the net gain of 18 residents. Net losses of residents to an area that Whanganui District also gains residents from will have different demographic characteristics. For example, the 204 residents who migrated here from Wellington City in the 2008-2013 period are older couples without children or young families aged 25-34 years and some mature adults/empty nesters aged 45+ years. The 468 residents who left the Whanganui District to live in Wellington City in the same five year period are mainly the 18-24 year old segment of school leavers and those transitioning to tertiary education or seeking employment opportunities in a bigger employment market.

Almost 46% of all Whanganui District residents (19,170 residents) did not move between 2008 and 2013 (stayed at the same address). Of the residents who did move between 2008 and 2013 (15,633), 24% moved within the District, 7% moved to the Whanganui District from other parts of New Zealand and 3% moved to the Whanganui District from another country. (6.7% - not applicable between 2008 and 2013, i.e. persons born between 2008 and 2013).

The abovementioned migration information relates to long term/permanent migration moves. However, on a daily migration scale, i.e. journey to work, connections to nearby TAs and the self-containment of a TA can be assessed. Of the total number of people who work in the Whanganui District (15,510), 93% (14,487) are also residents here, 7% live outside the District and commute here for work. 402 people travel from the Rangitikei District for work, 117 people travel to the Whanganui District from Palmerston City for work, 111 from South Taranaki and interestingly, 108 from Auckland City which could be related to some long term work in the District. Of the total number of employed Whanganui District residents (17,484), 83% work within the district and 7% live here but work outside the District (note – for 9.9%/1,728 of employed residents who live within the district, the work location was unknown). These figures illustrate that the Whanganui District is relatively self-contained in terms of employment and journey to work.

Historical migration flows, Whanganui District, 2006-2011
Historical migration flows, Whanganui District, 2006-2011
'Overseas' refers to arrivals only.

Population and household forecasts, 2013 to 2043, prepared by .id the population experts, May 2016.

Note: The migration flows depicted above are historical and do not represent future or forecast migration flows or subsequent council boundary changes. The arrows represent migration flows to the area as a whole and do not indicate an origin or destination for any specific localities within the area. Overseas flow shows overseas arrivals only, based on answers to the census question “where did the person usually live 5-years ago.

Housing role and function

Over time, different parts of the Whanganui District have established different housing roles and functions. The Whanganui District as a whole has had a relatively stable migration profile in recent years.

Since the early 2000s, the Whanganui District has gained young adults and young families aged in their mid/late twenties and early thirties with children aged 0-5 years. There have also been consistent losses of young adults aged 18-24 years, leaving the District for education and employment opportunities elsewhere, for example – Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin. These young adults may return to the district after attaining education and establish their families in the Whanganui District given that house affordability is better than in Wellington or Palmerston North. The District also gains mature adults aged 40-49 years old, who may represent either new arrivals or those residents returning to the District after years of living elsewhere. The District experiences slight gains in older age groups (50-59 years) representing empty nesters and early retirees who are selling houses and property elsewhere and purchasing more affordable property in Whanganui. There is historically (and in the forecast period) little change in age groups older than 70 years. There are also slight losses of residents closer to major centres outside of the TA for aged care of health care services and a gain of persons in the same age cohort from smaller, more remote regions such as the Ruapehu and Rangitikei Districts. Within the District, there is usually movement from more rural areas to a centre such as Whanganui City for accessibility to health services.

Within the city, there are some variations in terms of housing role and function. Areas such as Aramoho or Whanganui East-Kowhai Park-Wembley Park exhibit a slight gain of young families aged 30-39 years with children aged 0-9 years. They also lose 18-20 year olds leaving the area in search of education opportunities elsewhere and a loss of young adults aged 21-24 years old also leaving the area in search of employment elsewhere. There are slight gains of mature adults and empty nesters aged 50-54 years here too. Castlecliff North, Castlecliff South-Mosston-Balgownie-Airport and Wanganui West-Spriggens Park-College Estate have slightly different housing roles and functions where there is a gain of young adults aged 25-29 year olds with young children and a loss of established families aged 30-39 years with children aged 10-14 years. There is also a loss of young school-leaving adults aged 15-19 years and a gain of mature adults aged 40-49 years old. Fordell-Kakatahi-Marybank-Gordon Park experience more of a gain of established families aged 30-39 years with children aged 0-9 years.

During the forecast period, an area of relatively high growth is Maxwell-Brunswick-Kai Iwi-Westmere-Blueskin. There will be an increasing gain of families aged 25-39 years with children aged 0-14 years namely due to identified residential land in Springvale South, Mannington and Montgomery. Gains of mature adults aged 40-49 years and slight gains of empty nesters and early retirees aged 50-59 years also continues into the future. A loss of population (although slightly decreasing) will be that of 15-19 years olds. An area which experiences different net migration and housing role/function dynamics in the Whanganui District is Whanganui Central-Laird Park which, although remaining relatively stable in terms of gains/losses of people in certain age groups, will gain established families with teenage children in the area but also see an increase in 15-19 year olds, where younger people who remain in the district move closer to the centre of Whanganui City. This trend is not common in the Whanganui District and usually exemplifies net migration profiles seen in urban areas of larger cities.

Housing supply

The majority of Whanganui District’s growth occurred in the city where housing development began in central areas and moved outwards. The city grew rapidly in the early years but by the mid-1980s a number of government offices moved to Palmerston North and many businesses downsized or closed. Most of the city lies on the river's northwestern bank, although some suburbs are located on the opposite side of the river. Aside from around 6,300 people in surrounding Maxwell, Blueskin, Fordell, Kakatahi, Marybank and Gordon Park areas, most of the 43,500-strong population (2013 Census) resides in the city, approximately 86% of the District. In the period between 2001 and 2006, there were only 240 new dwellings in the District, on average around 48 new dwellings per year with the majority of development occurring in the Maxwell-Brunswick-Kai Iwi-Westmere-Blueskin area (43% of all dwelling additions between 2001 and 2006) and 32% in Springvale. In the most recent Census period, 2006-2013, the District has experienced 741 new dwellings which was on average almost 106 dwellings per annum over the seven year Census period. During this time, it was the St Johns Hill-Otamatea area which contributed 32% of all new dwelling additions (around 141 new dwellings in St Johns Hill and 93 in Otamatea). The Maxwell-Brunswick-Kai Iwi-Westmere-Blueskin area again had a large share of total new residential development, with 190 new dwelling additions in the seven year period (26%). Fordell-Kakatahi-Marybank-Gordon Park (just east of Durie Hill) also had a notable amount of growth in this period (106 dwellings over seven years).

During this 2006-2013 period, 2006-2010 in particular experienced the most residential building consents issued (717 in total) with 2006 being the highest single year since 1998 (211 consents issued), followed by two more years of relatively high (over 150) consent totals before a sharp drop of more than 50% in 2009. Since then, around 81 residential building consents were issued per annum, on average. Houses are the main type of dwelling consent issued in the Whanganui District and this makes sense given that the Whanganui District is not a totally occupied urban setting with built environment constraints. The District still has room for growth on the periphery and in areas identified by residential growth strategies. 80% of all dwelling consents issued since 2007 were for standalone houses whereas 20% were for “other” types of dwellings (A Statistics NZ classification which includes more than one dwelling unit within the same structure, such as semi-detached, row or terrace houses, flats, units and retirement village units).

At the start of the forecast period, rates of development remain at around 75 dwellings per annum with several developments occurring in various areas. The Ringley Estate in St Johns Hill-Otamatea, which began development prior to the 2013 Census continues to develop until 2018. Cracroft Drive (Fordell-Kakatahi-Marybank-Gordon Park) also continues to develop in the years immediately after the 2013 Census as do a few other subdivisions, such as: Dorset Road extension, Buckingham Place subdivision, Lithgow Drive development, Alma Mews and Poynter Place. The development of Springvale South commences in 2017 and continues to increase in annual rates of development during the forecast period with most of the major development during the forecast period occurring here however rural lifestyle areas in Montgomery and Mannington also commence from around 2017/2020 and contribute to dwelling additions in the District). Also from 2020, the Fitzherbert Avenue Extension commences and increases in rate of development by the late 2020s. All of these strategic land release areas have capacity remaining post 2043, around 55% of total capacity is used so not all of the available land is exhausted/developed in this forecast period.

Rates of infill development vary by small area as some areas will have limited lot size subdivision allowances, district plan zoning restrictions/permissions and the age of housing stock considered more adequate for redevelopment or intensification than others. Factors such as proximity to amenities, services and places of employment in townships and other established centres and housing demand also play a part in determining rates of infill development in different parts of the District. The least amount of growth (addition of new dwellings) is anticipated in areas which are already established such as Whanganui Central-Laird Park, Bastia Hill-Durie Hill-Putiki, Gonville and Wanganui East-Spriggens Park-College Estate. In terms of highest total rates of residential development in the Whanganui District, Maxwell-Brunswick-Kai Iwi-Westmere-Blueskin is anticipated to carry around a quarter of all residential development in the District to 2043 with a lot of strategically identified land marked for development. Tawhero will contain around 9% of all residential development during the 2013-2043 period and St Johns Hill-Otamatea around 8% during the forecast period.

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