Job growth and pressure on land is exceeding predictions, but a 50-year plan for the "sunbelt" Western Bay of Plenty region is on target, its authors say.

The SmartGrowth Strategy and Implementation Plan is under review for the first time since it was introduced in May 2004.

A committee comprising members of local councils and iwi meets today to finalise the review before it goes out for public consultation next month.

SmartGrowth was launched by Tauranga City Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Environment Bay of Plenty (the regional council) and tangata whenua to manage development in the fast-growing coastal region.

Between 1996 and 2001, the population grew 14.5 per cent to 130,000 and provisional figures from this year's census show similar growth.

The number of people in Tauranga, the region's main centre, seems to have risen 14 per cent to 104,700.

By 2051, the region - which stretches from Waihi Beach to Pukehina - is predicted to be home to 5.2 per cent of New Zealanders, up from the current 3.4 per cent.

The plan says 80 per cent of the growth is being fuelled by migration, particularly retirees and young families attracted by the mild climate and beach lifestyle but it presents unique challenges for urban planners.

The population of the elderly, even now more than the national average, is expected to grow seven-fold to 35,000 during the next 50 years.

Although newcomers arrive in droves, for every two that come, at least one leaves - a problem SmartGrowth attributes to poor job opportunities and low incomes.

The plan has also had to take into account pressure on land for housing and business, aiming to channel development into regional "growth corridors" and intensify building in already developed areas such as Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.

The focus is also on protecting the environment and public transport. But a review of SmartGrowth's business land requirements has shown the number of building consents for factories and warehouses from 2000 to 2004 was higher than projections.

Employment predictions were also behind actual figures, with the number of employees for last year already 4 per cent higher (53,980) than the projected figure for this year (51,920).

But SmartGrowth chairman Bill Wasley said such figures would fluctuate from year to year and the 50-year plan was still on track.

"We've got to take a long-term view. We've got to not be reactive and get a feel for trends occurring."

He said the review had focused on actions implemented since May 2004.

"The strategy review is not changing the strategy direction. We still have a high degree of confidence in the direction the strategy is taking."

A full review of the plan is to be carried out after the 2012 census, or when the region's population reaches 165,000.

Bye rat-race, hello dream

A quick stop during a hungover trip back from a wedding was all it took to convince Lara Bui and Isaac Weston they wanted to move to Mt Maunganui.

"We swung into the Mount," Ms Bui said. "We thought this is a beautiful area. It's got great beaches, the infrastructure looked quite sound, and it seemed more relaxed than Auckland."

Three months after leaving the "rat race" they have no regrets about moving to sunny Western Bay of Plenty. "Everything's better," Mr Weston said.

Popular with retirees, the region is now attracting younger families, making the pair - he a Flight Centre travel agent and she a regional manager for Starbucks - part of a growing trend.

While the couple have no children yet, Ms Bui, 33, said living at the Mount was an incentive.

"The whole concept of bringing up kids in Auckland was almost too hard."

After their quick visit in February, they joked with bosses about getting transfers to the Mount, and were surprised when they were both told yes.

"The opportunity was just screaming, so we thought, 'Let's go and give it a go'," Ms Bui said.

They sold their two-bedroom house in Mangere Bridge for $345,000 and bought a three-bedroom house one street back from the beach at the Mount for $365,000.

"You get more for your money down here," said Mr Weston, 31.

But they could not have afforded the move without work. Ms Bui was happy about their jobs because low pay and poor employment opportunities, though perhaps just a perception, were the one turn-off about their new location.

"Right now, the concept of $10 Tauranga has been quite heavily drummed into us. It would be quite risky for us to go change industry."

The couple claim to miss nothing about Auckland, except the odd meal of yum cha, and no longer call it home.

"We call it Dorkland now," Mr Weston laughed.


Every week in the Western Bay of Plenty:

* 100 people arrive from other areas.

* 52 people leave.

* 32 houses are built.

* 54 more vehicles go on the roads.

* 45 jobs are created.

Source: SmartGrowth Strategy and Implementation Plan