Nearly 70,000 extra people are expected to move to the Northern Rivers in the next 26 years.
Nearly 70,000 extra people are expected to move to the Northern Rivers in the next 26 years.

Extra 70,000 people for region

NEARLY 70,000 extra people are expected to move to the Northern Rivers over the next 26 years, new State Government population figures predict.

However, the surge – greater than the combined populations of the towns of Ballina, Lismore, Casino and Byron Bay – is predicted to settle exclusively on the coast, while inland centres rem-ain static or even shrink.

The figures, released by NSW Planning Minister Tony Kelly yesterday, show Ballina Shire’s population will swell by 39 per cent, to 56,200 residents by 2036; that Byron Shire’s would leap 44pc to 44,300 residents; and Tweed Shire would explode by 59pc to a staggering 131,900 residents.

Contrasting with those numbers were Lismore, with the city expected to grow by less than 1000 over the coming 25 years, and Kyogle and Casino where, despite comparatively easyaccess to developable land and hopes of a jobs boom on the back of Metgasco’s coal seam gas project, the population was predicted to fall.

The figures were greeted with a combination of caution and scepticism by local mayors.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell and Ballina mayor Phillip Silver said the forecasts fitted roughly with their own figures.

However, Byron mayor Jan Barham dismissed them, saying Byron Shire did not have the space to accommodate a 44pc surge in its population.

Under the Far North Coast Regional Strategy, drawn up by the Department of Planning in 2007, Byron Shire’s developable land was limited to a few small parcels at Bangalow and the area around Belongil Fields – the former Splendour in the Grass and Blues Festival site on Ewingsdale Road.

“The figures they are using here don’t seem to be related to anything,” Cr Barham said.

“Byron Bay actually had a decrease in its permanent population in the last Census.”

Cr Barham said there was some extra developable land available at Mullumbimby, and the last parcel of land at Brunswick Heads was already with the State Government awaiting approval for development.

Ocean Shores was full. The rest of the shire was either on environmentally sensitive land, flood prone, or expected to be hard hit by climate change over the coming decades.

Cr Dowell said the Government’s prediction of less than 1000 new residents in the city by 2031 matched the council’s modelling. However, she said the Government was also one of the key reasons Lismore would not be sharing in the population explosion.

“The current rate (of population growth) in Lismore is less than 1pc, it’s more like 0.5pc,” she said.

The reason for that was simple: “If you don’t have the housing, the population doesn’t grow.”

Cr Dowell said Lismore was stuck in a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation with the Department of Planning.

“We have the problem where the department looks at our growth figures and then decides we can have only 100 blocks to release,” she said.

Cr Silver said the Government’s figures also matched his council’s own projections, but, with big land releases at Cumbalum and Wollongbar already set within Ballina Shire’s long term strategy, there would be no problem fitting the extra 10,000 people.

However, he was less confident about the Government’s ability to provide the critical infrastructure and resources, such as in health, education and police numbers, thosepeople would need.

Cr Silver said Ballina’s growth also meant it was time to look at bigger infrastructure questions, such as Ballina Hospital’s ‘subservient status’ to Lismore Base Hospital, and the absence of a Southern Cross University campus at Ballina.

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