South East Queensland: The 200 kilometre city
On a recent trip to Queensland I was lucky enough to be flying on a clear day, which allows demographic nerds like myself to get a birdseye view of the towns, cities and countryside below. I’m a big fan of the window seat simply so that I can try to pick out the various features 35,000 feet below – I figure I need something to do to wile away the time! Flying to the Sunshine Coast from Melbourne, you tend to go straight over the Gold Coast and out to sea, before heading back to the coast just north of Maroochydore where the Sunshine Coast airport is located. This meant I got a great view of the urban conglomerate referred to as South East Queensland (SEQ) – that stretch of coastline from the NSW-Queensland border heading north to include Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. It’s been referred to as the 200 kilometre city and is often cited as one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Given the recent release of the revised/recast/revamped/recalibrated ERPs by the ABS, let’s have a look at the most recent population trends in this part of Australia.
SEQ – it really is quite large
Various definitions exist for the SEQ region but the most common one is the ten LGAs listed in the table below. Queensland’s LGA structure includes some very large councils such as Brisbane, but together the ten LGAs form a substantial urban area with a population of almost 3.1 million people in 2012. This certainly provides a different perspective on Australia’s urban hierarchy. The SEQ urban area is about three-quarters the size of Sydney or Melbourne rather than merely considering at the Brisbane metropolitan area which is about half the size.
Between 2001 and 2006 SEQ grew by around 330,000 people which corresponds to an annual average growth rate of 2.7%. Between 2006 and 2011 the volume of growth was slightly higher (341,000) but the annual average growth rate was slightly lower (2.4%). The slow down in growth was more noticeable on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, whereas LGAs to the west of the Brisbane metropolitan area recorded stronger growth between 2006 and 2011 compared to the previous five years. Ipswich for example grew by 18,100 persons between 2001 and 2006 (2.8% per annum) whereas between 2006 and 2011 the equivalent figures were 30,200 and 3.9%. There are strong transport links into central Brisbane and there are several new housing estates, which in common with greenfield areas in the rest of Australia tend to attract young families seeking relatively affordable accommodation.
Source: ABS, Regional Population Growth (Cat. no. 3218.0)
A generous geography?
Of course this population figure of almost 3.1 million is achieved through combining LGAs into a larger urban area. However there is little doubt when looking at a map, an aerial photo, or as I did simply look out the airplane window, that SEQ is a very large and contiguous urban area. Arguably the Glass House Mountains area is still sparsely settled and separates the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane’s northern suburbs, but there is no doubting the strong transport, social and economic linkages across SEQ. For example, 2011 Census data indicates that around 5,000 people travel from the Gold Coast to Brisbane’s CBD and surrounds for work, and the equivalent figure for the Sunshine Coast is about 1,500.
In fact, if I were to be fair to SEQ and define it as an amalgamation of LGAs that share contiguous urban settlement, then almost 89,000 people living in Tweed Shire Council across the NSW border should be included. This would give SEQ a 2012 population of 3.16 million.
SEQ is not the only example of this phenomenon whereby small settlements grow over the decades to form a larger urban area. The Illawarra region of NSW is another – together the LGAs of Wollongong and Shellharbour form a population of 270,000 people, and if you include Kiama to the south (the Shell Cove estate is almost knocking on the door of Minnamurra) then this becomes 290,000. In a similar vein, .id has prepared a number of community profiles for groups of councils, so that they can better compare population data. An example of this is the Lakes Voluntary Regional Organisation of Councils (VROC) community profile, which consists of four small rural LGAs in Western Australia’s wheatbelt.