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Ashburton District is situated on the Canterbury Plains, roughly conterminous with the Mid-Canterbury sub-region. the seat of the territorial authority is in Ashburton, a large town 85 kilometres south west of Christchurch with a population of approximately 19,200 in 2013 and estimated as 20,600 in 2018. The area is a rich agricultural region, with extensive livestock and dairy farming owing to extensive irrigation. The town of Ashburton was first surveyed and set out in 1864, although European settlers had moved into the area in the 1850s as squatters and sheep farmers. The future South Island Main Line was first extended from Christchurch to Rakaiai in 1873 and reached Ashburton in 1874, with subsequent branch lines to Mount Somers and Methven opening the area and allowing the population to grow. As Ashburton town grew, it was constituted as a borough in 1878, with the districts of Netherby, Hampstead, Allenton and finally Tinwald being consecutively amalgamated between 1917 and 1955 as suburbs of the town
Over recent years Ashburton District has been one of New Zealand’s fastest growing rural districts with a population increase of 22% since 2001 (approx. 1.7% p.a.). This period of rapid, but consistent growth follows an earlier period of little or no growth. This growth has occurred in both urban and rural areas and is considered to have been driven primarily by the strong local rural economy, given changing land uses. Increased and more sophisticated irrigation has underpinned changing land use, mainly to dairying, dairy support and high value crops, which has supported the growth in local service industries and manufacturing. Tourism and the post-earthquake population drift from Christchurch may have contributed to this growth but are likely to be minor influences relative to the strong rural labour demand. The District enjoys low unemployment, and continuing labour demand is likely to fuel growth in future years. Ashburton is the third largest urban area in the Canterbury Region after Christchurch and Timaru.
The population is forecast to increase to 42,000 by 2043, approx. 0.8% over the period from 2018. This represents a slowing growth compared to the recent past, although growth is expected to remain high to 2023 (with a short-term rate of 1% per annum). Much of the reason is that Ashburton District is likely to remain primarily dependent on agriculture: land and water resources are finite, and irrigation and agriculture will need to measure intensification against undesirable environmental impacts.
The largest impact in terms of demographic change on the housing market will be the ageing of the population. The proportion of population over 65 years will rise significantly over the forecast period. This is group is estimated to make up 18% of the population in 2018, but is forecast to rise to 22% by 2043, with a population of approximately 9,000 over retirement age. Much of this growth will occur Ashburton, with older persons moving to be closer to services and aged care provision. Ageing will additionally provide more service-based employment opportunities promoting growth in family households.
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 based on answers to the census question "where did the person usually live 5-years ago" and .id estimates of international out-migration.
Opportunities for new dwellings are likely to be greatest in Ashburton, particularly in the small areas of Netherby, Tinwald – Plains Railway and Fairton - Ashburton Northeast, which provide most potential for future subdivision and urban expansion. The Council has also identified potential capacity in other smaller towns in the area, although this is most likely to occur in Hinds, which will attract a mix of younger families (moving supported by the growth in the agricultural economy) and older empty nester and retiree households, perhaps retiring from elsewhere within the District to access services as the town grows. Growth is also expected in Methven, resulting out of agricultural employment and the growth in the tourist and alpine sports economy. Although demand for new development is low within other townships, such as Rakaia, it is expected that there will be some growth in support of employment in the agricultural sector. The wider rural areas of Chertsey and Mt Somers are unlikely to experience much growth, except around smaller townships.
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