Northland's population has shot up by nearly 19,000 in three years, a 10.5 per cent increase since 2018 – the biggest jump over that period in more than a quarter of a century.
District councils in the regions have plans in place to cope with the surge in population. However, an increase in building and resource consent applications, especially in high-growth areas such as Mangawhai, is putting pressure on regulatory agencies and delays in their approval.
Estimates by Stats NZ show that there were 18,824 more people in the three years to June last year, taking the region's population to 197,900 and the territorial authorities are among those feeling the pressure.
It's the biggest three-yearly increase since 1996 when Northland's population was 140,700.
Stats NZ historical data dates back to 1996.
A Stats NZ spokesman attributed the rapid rise in population to a combination of national and international migration since the pandemic, and Kiwis in bigger metropolitan cities preferring to retire in Northland or work in the region.
Sharron and Richard Cole chose to settle in Waipū from Wellington when they retired towards the end of 2019, and couldn't be happier after joining up with like-minded retirees.
Waipū evokes special memories for Sharron as her maternal grandfather's family settled there in 1854 and her nana is also from that town.
"A nice thing about Waipū is it has a number of newly retired people and we're in a walking group and have coffee afterwards. There are lots of things to get involved in like going to the beach or learning Māori."
The couple volunteer at the Waipū Museum – Sharron as a genealogist for two days a week and is also on the museum's trust board.
She isn't surprised at the increase in Northland's population in recent years, saying people are realising life is short and those in metropolitan cities are sick of the rat race and prefer to enjoy less hectic places.
The Far North District Council attributes much of the high number of building and resource consent applications to a growth in population.
The estimated population in the Far North district at the end of June last year was 71,300 or 3400 compared with three years ago.
Far North deputy mayor Ann Court said FNDC received 142 consent applications in December last year – the highest tally for that month in the past five years.
"Since July 2021, we have received 854 resource consent applications. The high volume of applications, coupled with staff vacancies and a short-supply of consultant planners, has contributed to some delays in processing these within the 20-day statutory timeframe."
However, Court said nearly all of the applications were processed within statutory timeframes over the past six months.
When developing its Long Term and Annual Plans, Court said FNDC must strike a balance between providing infrastructure needed to accommodate predicted growth against the ability of ratepayers to fund it.
Despite financial constraints, she said FNDC was steadily expanding infrastructure in key growth areas and the Kerikeri Wastewater Treatment Plant was a case in point.
Improvements to water supply in Kaitāia and Kaikohe, and improving or providing new sports facilities at Kaitāia, Kaikohe and Waipapa were the other initiatives to accommodate population growth, Court said.
According the Ministry of Social Development, current trends indicate Northland will need another 2000 houses within three years.
"We are working hard to mitigate the impacts of this crisis. We have transformed our Building Consents Team to ensure consents are processed and delivered as quickly as possible.
"We have also worked hard to win some of the Government's $1 billion Infrastructure Acceleration Fund to build housing infrastructure, such as roads, stormwater, and wastewater services."
She said FNDC submitted 13 expressions of interest in 2021 to help establish much-needed social and community housing in the Far North.
Four of these projects, representing 407 new homes, were selected to proceed to the Request for Proposal stage and FNDC hopes it will ultimately win funding.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said her council was well-placed to manage population increases as part of its Sustainable Future Growth Strategy that has assessed land and infrastructure needs over the next 30 years.
Recent projects, she said, included the construction of a new water treatment plant and the continuation of subdivision and environmental standards work to ensure areas of greenfield development were managed to minimise impacts on service provision.
Mai said WDC occasionally experienced isolated demand, but these were usually easily rectified.
There were also significant demand changes to new industries or those leaving such as Refining New Zealand that shed hundreds of jobs in preparation of changing to an import-only fuel terminal from April.
On housing, the mayor said WDC has allocated $150,000 in its LTP 2021/31 for the development of a Housing Strategy.
Kaipara mayor Jason Smith said his council was aware a balance must be struck between rates increases and levels of service and, where possible, government contribution was sought such as $8m through the Provincial Growth Fund for road.
He said Kaipara District Council had done a dedicated spatial plan for Mangawhai and for all other parts of the district to better manage the rapid population growth.
KDC is also undertaking a complete District Plan Review to better facilitate the growth in Mangawhai and other popular areas, he said.
He highlighted the development of a shared path through Mangawhai, a 3m-wide pathway for cycling and pedestrians, wheelchairs, and mobility scooters that would ultimately stretch from the Heads Beach to the Domain.
"We are talking with the community about building a new library in Mangawhai, have just upgraded major intersections there," Smith said. "We are working proactively across many fronts to manage and make the best of the growth in Mangawhai. We're surfing this wave!
"Housing land and industrial land in Kaipara is limited but the council with its District Plan Review is working towards opening new areas for housing, making the planning rules more focused for this. We acknowledge we're a popular place and want to make the best of this here."