The Gunnedah shire’s population is expected to rise by just 775 people in the next 20 years according to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

The marginal uptake represented a meagre 0.3 per cent annual increase in Gunnedah’s population from 12,691 people in 2021 to 13,466 in 2041. This is compared to a one per cent average increase state-wide.

To understand what is driving the changes in population, the department said it looks at the demographic components of population change: babies being born, people dying and people moving in and out of an area.

Gunnedah’s population change over the next two decades represented 1603 natural change (births less deaths) but a negative 828 migration intake (arrivals less departures).

Over that time, Gunnedah will see no change in younger age groups and an increase in older age groups.

This data is consistent with population forecasts presented by Gunnedah Shire Council in its strategic planning documents. This included the Local Housing Strategy which was adopted by council earlier this year. But in other areas of the north west, community leaders are questioning the accuracy of the figures.

Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson expressed his concern that the department’s predicted population increase for Tamworth of 71,956 residents by 2041 was well below its council’s own estimate of 100,000.

“There’s a 28,044-person discrepancy in the figures – the current population of Armidale,” he said.

Mr Anderson feared that a reduced population growth forecast would negatively impact service and infrastructure delivery in the wider Tamworth electorate.

“With such a significant discrepancy in the figures, I am deeply concerned that the Labor state government is sleepwalking towards a significant public infrastructure backlog if it doesn’t keep pace,” he said.

Mr Anderson sought clarification about the population figures with a series of questions put to the government. Among them was ‘does NSW Planning still project that the Gunnedah Shire Council Local Government Area will grow in population by 0.30 percent by 2041?’ The response was ‘yes’.

He also asked how the pandemic has influenced population growth in the Gunnedah Shire Council Local Government Area. In its reply, the government referred Mr Anderson to Estimated Resident Population data available on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website.

A population estimate for Gunnedah shire as of the June 30, 2022 was 13,144. At the time, it was estimated the population had grown by 0.43 per cent on 2021.

Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey also doubted whether the 0.3 per cent annual population increase was accurate.

“There is nothing on the ground that would indicate we are going backwards,” he said. “If anything, we should be going the other way.”

The Country Mayors Association chair said although he was aware the many job vacancies could be stemming growth, Gunnedah was not alone in its predicament.

“It is a concern right across the state,” he said.

Cr Chaffey said council, local businesses and the community are all doing their part to help bridge that gap in workforce shortages.

Although marginal, Gunnedah’s slim 0.3 per cent population increase is still a far better outlook than some of its near neighbours including the Liverpool Plains LGA. The Quirindi region is expected to decrease in population by 0.54 per cent by 2041 according to the latest estimate.

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