Towns in New Zealand's regional areas should be made more enticing to slow the mammoth population growth expected in Auckland in the next decade, a sociologist says.
By the time New Zealand's population reaches five million, it is expected that about 38 per cent of people (1.9 million) will live in our largest city.
Auckland hosts about 33 per cent of the country's population at the moment.
Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley says immigrants to New Zealand will help keep the country's population growing, and more should be done to entice those new residents to regional centres to slow the boom in Auckland.
"You want to distribute both the benefits and the demand the population growth produces around New Zealand," Professor Spoonley said.
"If you're going to concentrate it in a few areas, and principally in Auckland, then you're going to have to put a lot of resource into one part of the country at the same time you're closing schools, hospitals, post offices [in areas where the population is dropping]."
Professor Spoonley said growth was also expected for other cities and towns including Christchurch, Tauranga and Queenstown but for many smaller towns the projection was for little, if any, shift in population.
"The difficulty is that the population growth is uneven," he said.
"We're already seeing the end of growth in some regions; they're now flat-lining and some of them will actually decline in population, but Auckland will grow and it will grow quite rapidly.
"Unfortunately, if you keep growing Auckland, the issues around housing affordability or environment or transport don't ease."
Professor Spoonley said almost all economic development was now focused on cities, and even rural areas that were showing growth tended to use less labour. He said immigrants arriving in New Zealand should be given incentives to work outside of Auckland.
"We're using migration to shore up the numbers in New Zealand and produce new skills.
"We could be doing more to encourage more migrants to go to places other than Auckland," Professor Spoonley said.
Statistics New Zealand predicts the country's population will reach five million by 2026.
A new report released yesterday, called New Zealand in Profile: 2013, shows population growth is expected to slow.
Statistics New Zealand senior analyst Kim Dunstan said the mass exodus to Australia was one of the greatest contributors to last year's population growth of just 0.7 per cent, which was the lowest of the last 10 years.
He said population growth was expected to return to normal rates in coming years.
The population has grown by about 480,000 to 4.4 million since 2002.
But it is expected to grow by only 407,000 to 4.8 million by 2022.