People working in local government will need to familiarise themselves with new statistical boundaries, says Hugh Dickey. But they should benefit from access to more census data on which to base their decisions.
Tasked with undertaking the first major review of our country’s statistical boundaries since 1991, the Stats NZ Geography Review Team has been at the epicentre of work that has reshaped geographical borders.
The team’s recent review of our country’s statistical boundaries has seen urban centres redefined so their limits now align closely with current urban land use. Some urban centres no longer include a chunk of rural land surrounding them, as was previously the case. Nor do they include satellite towns or suburbs that are physically separated from the main centre.
Examples are Hibiscus Coast (Auckland), Hikurangi (Whangarei), Clive and Haumoana (Hastings), Ashhurst (Palmerston North) and Kaiapoi (Christchurch).
This has had the effect of reducing the number of people living in urban centres of more than 1000 people by 2.4 percentage points. As a result, New Zealand’s population is now 83.8 percent urban as at the 2013 census, but using the new 2018 boundaries.
The review was completed in advance of the upcoming national census in March this year.
The cities and towns most affected by these changes are those that previously had overly-generous urban area boundaries drawn around them. These include Hastings-Havelock North, Hamilton, Blenheim, Hawera, Greymouth and Gore, all of which have shed more than 15 percent of their population when measured by the new criteria.
The biggest percentage drop is in Pukekohe (-22.6 percent) as the nearby town of Tuakau is excluded from the urban area. In terms of numbers, the biggest drop is the exclusion of nearly 43,000 people from Auckland with Hibiscus Coast classified as a separate urban area and a further 43,000 from other fringe areas of the city.
One change that will please many smaller communities is the addition of dozens of rural settlements that have from under 100 to over 500 people and will now be recognised in official census data.
On a wider scale, all territorial authorities have been subdivided in a new way. Gone are the 2004 Area Units and in their place are 2253 SA2s (Statistical Area 2), giving a more detailed breakdown.
A full range of census data will be published for these SA2s, which average about 2300 people each, though they have a higher number of inhabitants in urban centres and a smaller number in rural areas.
The SA2s are, in turn, divided into 29,889 SA1s, which have an average population of 142. Some are made of single meshblocks, while others are a combination of two or more smaller meshblocks, but the size is sufficient that quite a lot of census data will be made available for them, but not at the detailed level of SA2s.
People working in local government will need to familiarise themselves with the new SA2 boundaries, which in places are quite different from the Area Unit boundaries they are used to. However, they will be pleased at the greater range of census data that will be available at the new smaller SA1 level.
One of the original aims of the review of statistical boundaries was to separate out National Parks, forest parks and other large reserves that have no inhabitants. However, due to factors such as the need to subdivide many rural meshblocks and the fact that many parks cross district boundaries, this was not done.
Following the completion of the next census, further reviews of meshblock boundaries will be made and those with a geographer’s desire to see differing land use areas treated separately will, hopefully, be satisfied.
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This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.