The HB Chamber of Commerce has done a commendable service by commissioning a quarterly series of economic trend reports on the region. The first of these was published this month. You can download it here.

Now, with regular analysis underway (via HB’s Economic Solutions Ltd.), the much bigger challenge is getting local decision-makers — especially those of the elected variety — to read and heed them!

For example, the report notes that population in HB has risen a mere 1,300 (or 0.9%) since the 2006 Census. This compares to 2.5% national growth. Further, HB’s population growth rate is projected to decrease even more after 2011, and then our total population will actually decline after 2026.

Call me crazy, but I think that means the Bay won’t be facing heaps of population pressure anytime soon!

But it will be interesting to see whether or how this trend is actually reflected in the new long term plans (LTCCPs) now being prepared by our various councils. These plans will cover the ten years starting 2009 … in most of these years, population growth will be measured in the hundreds, not thousands.

Yet to hear our Councillors, ratepayers need to be preparing their pocketbooks for massive growth — more roads for more traffic, more “urban growth” requiring more farmland to be consumed, more expensive sporting facilities for hordes of new kids, a mega-shopping complex, more of everything!

If anything, the Chamber’s report would indicate, to the contrary, that the Bay is approaching a period of consolidation, not expansion, at least to the degree population growth will not be a driver. So shouldn’t the LTCCPs anticipate a flattening of demand for public facilities, infrastructure, and services? Or, alternatively, shouldn’t they be required to make the case explicitly as to why and how this demand will escalate despite a virtual flattening of population over the next ten years?

One subtle difference in approach might be to focus in the next LTCCPs on quality versus quantity … improving the essential services and facilities we already have, rather than planning against phantom growth.

I don’t know what growth hormones our Councillors are ingesting … but they sure don’t seem to be swallowing the Chamber’s economic trend report!

Tom

P.S. None of this suggests economic growth won’t occur in HB. It can be generated by increased exports, increased tourism, higher productivity and higher value enterprises … all fueling higher incomes and associated consumer spending. The point is that this kind of growth doesn’t necessarily translate into greater demand or requirement for public expenditure.

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