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Recently released Census figures reveal the population of the Waitaki district grew by 7.1% in the past five years.

The 2018 census data, released by Statistics New Zealand last month, lists the population of Waitaki in 2018 as 22,308.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said census statistics backed up anecdotal evidence that more new people were moving to the district from other parts of New Zealand and other countries.

“It’s certainly a far cry from the late ’90s or early 2000s when there was decline and ongoing predictions of further decline, so that’s really pleasing,” Mr Kircher said.

“A lot of our infrastructure has been built for larger numbers, so we are still coping quite well with that.”

According to the 2018 Census, there are 2124 empty dwellings in Waitaki – a 13.8% increase from 2013. There had also been a 3.8% increase in the number of lived-in homes.

“We are still finding houses are very much in demand,” Mr Kircher said.

“There is Airbnb-type activity where houses are being removed for the [rental] market.”

Otematata, Lake Ohau Village and Omarama had all seen an increase in new builds, many of which were holiday homes, Mr Kircher said.

“Some of the new housing is basically unoccupied most of the time.”

There was always a risk of locals being priced out of the housing market, but the Waitaki district was still more affordable than other places, he said.

“It is something that I keep a close eye on to see where it goes.

“Having said that, there are a lot of people in the market already who are very happy – it’s a balance.

“I think we are still at the stage where it is affordable.”

The release of census data had been delayed, because of gaps in some key subject areas, and Mr Kircher expressed concern about the accuracy of the data, especially when it came to accurately representing the ethnic minorities in the Waitaki district.

“A lot of it has had to be completed using other sources to try and fill the gaps.

“We’ve only got what we’ve got, so we will have to use that to the best of our ability.”

The Waimate district experienced a 3.7% increase in population, from 7536 people in 2013 to 7815 last year. The number of occupied homes in Waimate increased 3.1%, from 3210 to 3309, and the number of empty dwellings had increased by 20.9%, from 474 in 2013 to 573.