A changing New Zealand has major impacts for our infrastructure

New Zealand’s population is going through the greatest change since the post-war baby boom, says Dr Paul Spoonley, speaking at the Infrastructure Commission, Te Waihanga’s Looking Ahead Symposium in Wellington.

“We can see several trends playing out, an ageing population combined with lower fertility as fewer children are born to older parents. In addition, we see New Zealand becoming increasingly urban which also results in population decline or stagnation in a growing number of our regions. We can also expect much greater diversity as immigration continues to be an important source of the skills we need,” says Dr Spoonley.

“More children are being born to women 40 or older than to those under 20.

“Growth in the 65 and older age group will make up most of the population growth in 56 out of 67 territorial authority regions over coming decades. While in many regions the main centres will continue to grow, smaller centres and rural areas will experience population decline – ageing.”

These trends have major implications for our infrastructure.

“We need to do things very differently from how we’ve done them in the past because our population is going to be very different.”

Te Waihanga CE Ross Copland says Dr Spoonley highlights the need to relook at the approach we take to the way we plan and prioritise our infrastructure.

“Our cities are going to need to make room for a lot more people and we’re going to have to think hard about how to meet the cost of maintaining expensive infrastructure in communities that have fewer residents,” says Copland.

“An aging population creates challenges for our infrastructure. One of these is the predicted contraction of the workforce and the implications this will have for the massive pipeline of infrastructure we’re going to need to build. The working age proportion of the population has started to shrink and will continue to shrink in coming decades which will create serious delivery constraints for infrastructure unless immigration policies allow us to fill increasing skill gaps.

“It also raises some concerning questions whether infrastructure funding will be sustainable as fewer and fewer working-age taxpayers fund the infrastructure needs of an ever-growing retired population, and how we should address this issue.

“Te Waihanga is looking at these and the other issues we face as part of our work on a 30-year infrastructure strategy. As part of this, we’re consulting on a document that sets out the scale of our infrastructure challenge and sets out some potential options for change.”