Queenstown Lakes' population growth has 'crisis written all over it' - economist Cameron Bagrie

  • 21/11/2023

Population growth in one of New Zealand's most idyllic regions is set to tip it into crisis point, according to a prominent economist.  

More and more Kiwis are turning their backs on city life and embracing the regions, with data showing populations in the likes of Otago and Bay of Plenty all grew faster than the national average, with all regions apart from Auckland - New Zealand's biggest city - and Hamilton experiencing gains through net internal migration. 

Queenstown Lakes had the biggest increase in population, growing 8 percent (3900) in the year to June - 1100 of which was through net internal migration.  

"The combination of internal migration, external migration in the last 12 months and you throw on top of that natural population growth... Now, you think about that number regarding what it means for infrastructure, for schooling, what it means for demand for housing and you've got crisis written all over it," independent economist Cameron Bagrie said of Queenstown.  

Bagrie said affordability was already a massive issue in the region. Average rents in the district have skyrocketed $78 to $598 per week this year, Infometrics data showed. 

Reports this year revealed workers in the resort town were living in their cars due to a shortage of rental properties.  

Looking at other regions experiencing an ongoing influx of people - both internally and externally - Canterbury's Selwyn and Mackenzie District's grew by 5.2 and 3.6 percent respectively.  

Auckland, meanwhile, typically loses between 10,000 and 14,000 people to internal migration per year. However, its population was growing again due to external migration.  

"I think a lot of it's just pretty simple economics," Bagrie explained. "If you look at a house price, for instance, in a region versus a house in Auckland - it's pretty obvious where the economics stack up an awful lot more, and, of course, that's being accelerated by these dynamic shifts with regard to working from home."  

Crime rates were also likely driving people away from the big cities, he said.  

"Lifestyle's a big part of it," Bagrie said. "I suspect crime/law and order could be a bit of a driving factor [as well as] demographics [and] aging population."  

New Zealand's total population was now 5,269,200, having grown 2.7 percent in the year to September.