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New projections from Stats New Zealand reveal Waitaki’s population will mostly grow through people moving into the district rather than from new births in the next 25 years.

Released last week, updated projections put the Waitaki district’s population at 24,100 by 2043, a growth of 8% from 2018, despite deaths being predicted to outnumber births by 2038.

Oamaru’s population is also expected to increase by 3.6% to 14,400 people by 2043, because net migration is expected to be high enough to outweigh the already growing natural decrease in the North Otago town.

This reflects the national trend, where migration has been the largest component of New Zealand’s population growth in recent years.

After a sharp decline from 1996 to 2001 – from 22,000 to 20,500 – the Waitaki population has been slowly growing back, and the most recent projections are a positive turnaround from forecasts – made as recently as 2014 – that the number of people living in Waitaki district was set to decline in the next decade.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said there had been predictions of population decline in Waitaki over the past 20 years, but the regeneration of the district continued to be a New Zealand success story.

“What it shows is, when you’re undertaking significant projects in the district and you’re growing productivity and the job opportunities, then growth is certainly possible.

“What we’ve got, though, is a situation where that growth has largely come as a result of migration.”

Last year, Auckland academic Damon Salesa said Oamaru was home to New Zealand’s largest population of Pacific people per capita – estimating that one in four Oamaru residents were Pacific people.

“We’ve seen a real increase in the cultural diversity of the district – that’s been through all of those people coming to fill the jobs that we’ve got and enjoy the lifestyle we have here as other places become unaffordable or just unpleasant to live in,” Mr Kircher said.

“We offer the ability for affordable housing and a great lifestyle. Those are things we’ve got to make sure we keep on doing.”

He said it was the Waitaki District Council’s role to help create an environment where businesses could thrive and more people were attracted to move to the district.

“As long as council keeps doing that, we’ll do all right,” he said.

A recent case study by Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, found Oamaru provided a primer for how to reboot a region and prevent the development of “zombie” settlements.

Led by Dr Mike Mackay, of Lincoln University, and involving Drs Nick Taylor and Karen Johnston, and Emeritus Professor of Planning Harvey Perkins, the study provided an analysis of Oamaru’s past, present, and future initiatives for regeneration.

Dr Mackay said the planning and implementing of the regeneration of Oamaru stone buildings in the Victorian precinct and along the main street, eco-tourism and rejuvenation of the waterfront were fundamental to providing the initial momentum of the town’s regeneration.

“Oamaru has managed to build on underexploited local resources and skill sets; supporting business incubators; place branding and marketing; [and] tourism events,” Dr Taylor said.

“A strategic push over the last decade has significantly increased the size of the visitor economy.

“Oamaru is fortunate in that it is located at the end of the relatively new Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail and home to the little blue penguin.

“It is also the site of many attractive warehouses built and carved from locally quarried Oamaru limestone.

“And now it has also found a unique niche, becoming the steampunk capital of the world.”

The Oamaru case study research team said an essential element to success in regional regeneration was the ability to mobilise local resources and external inputs in an integrated and strategic way.

“Plans provide strategy and guidance, especially when there is a strong underpinning of community input,” Prof Perkins said.

“We also observe that it is important to build local capacity in regeneration by encouraging multiple leaders and organisations. An important finding is the need for integration across strategies, plans and initiatives, especially when dealing with multiple sites and a large number of heritage buildings and projects.”