Accommodating population change in the ACT

Population growth

Population growth, demographic change and household change underpin the need to plan for growth and change in Canberra and surrounding NSW.

At June 2002, the ACT’s estimated resident population was 321,800 and neighbouring Queanbeyan’s was 33,300. There were 114,800 occupied dwellings (an average of 2.6 persons per household) in the ACT and 15,500 in Queanbeyan, in August 2001. The Australian Capital Territory Population Projections 2002 - 2032 and Beyond predicts that on current trends the population of Canberra would grow to approximately 389,000 by 2032 (Graph 1). This reflects continuing low levels of fertility and net migration to Canberra of about 500 people per year (a figure derived from averaging in-migration rates over the last few years). It is expected that the ACT will have an increasingly ageing population, with an estimated median age of 43.3 years in 2032.

Graph 1 Official projected population growth - ACT at 2003

While the Spatial Plan recognises the ACT Government population forecasts, it is important to also plan for the implications of high end forecasts. The Australian Bureau of Statistics high end forecasts predict an ACT population of 460,000 by 2032. The high end projection would require annual net in-migration to the ACT and surrounding NSW of around 2,500 (including retention of young people in Canberra following completion of tertiary training).

The Spatial Plan does not propose population targets but does provide the framework to accommodate a range of population growth scenarios. Local economic prosperity or external factors, such as migration policy and/or continued growth of Sydney and pressure for development in the corridor between Canberra and Sydney, could have an impact on future population growth.

Prudent planning therefore requires that The Canberra Spatial Plan caters for both moderate and high population projections – that is for a population of between 389,000 and 460,000 for the ACT and between 430,000 and 500,000 for Canberra-Queanbeyan.

Dwelling Demand

At June 2001 there were 121,749 dwellings in the ACT. Between 1991 and 2001 there were 23,391 additional dwellings in the ACT, of which 61 per cent were separate houses. Dwelling approvals in Queanbeyan, Yass and Yarralumla between 1996 and 2001 totalled 3,000. Almost 65 per cent of these were in Queanbeyan and over 90 per cent of these approvals were for separate houses.

The housing types developed in Canberra and the surrounding region reflect a general, Australia wide, shift towards construction of higher density dwellings, such as townhouses, apartments and flats. For example, between 1991 and 2001 there was a 4 per cent decrease in the stock of separate houses in the ACT (as a percentage of total housing) and a 4 per cent increase in other types of houses. This trend away from detached housing is expected to continue over time (Graph 2).

Graph 2 - Changing housing stock -Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 1991, 1996, 2001 census

Household size is declining and even the low or moderate population growth currently projected would mean a higher rate of household formation than population growth alone would indicate. It is predicted that the average household size will decrease from 2.6 persons currently to 2.2 persons by 2032. This will impact on the housing needs and preferences of the population, as will the predicted shift to an ageing population over the same time frame. (Graph 3).

Graph 3 - Household size and Household number

The predicted ageing of the population (Graph 4) will require additional housing solutions, specifically for aged people.

Graph 4 - Population change by age group (between 2002 and 2032)
Based on the current official population projections, household size and expected demographic changes the number of dwellings in Canberra-Queanbeyan could increase by 58,000 by 2032. If the population increased to 500,000, some 90,000 additional dwellings would be needed.

Whatever the future holds in terms of housing demand, the current committed areas alone will not meet the estimated demand for housing in and around Canberra under the current official moderate and high growth projections. Current capacity for residential development within the ACT includes:

  • vacant sites with the capacity for 10,000 dwellings within established areas, including Bruce, McKellar, Lawson, West Bonython, East O’Malley and North Watson; and
  • use of greenfields parcels in Gungahlin and Dunlop with a capacity of up to 30,000 dwellings.

Areas are also under investigation for urban development in various locations outside of the ACT, including Tralee and Googong, located south and south west of Queanbeyan and Sutton, north east of Canberra.

While it is difficult to predict with certainty future housing preferences, an increase in demand for higher density housing to about 50 per cent (due to declining household size) has been assumed, with sufficient flexibility in the planning to respond to both higher and lower levels of demand for various housing types.

New areas have been identified in The Canberra Spatial Plan within the ACT for future residential development to meet projected demand and to accommodate higher levels of development, should this occur.