Surprising Census results in South East Queensland

Macroplan’s Mark Courtney and Ross Elliott in our Queensland office have been doing the rounds of a select number of business clients and public sector agencies with a presentation that focuses on some of the surprise findings of the 2016 Census – first details of which were released in early July. The presentation focuses on some of the predicted demographic trends for both inner Brisbane and for the greater metropolitan region, as defined by the ABS, and finds some significant surprises. In some cases, the evidence points to outcomes which are the opposite of those expected.

This is important because it means that urban planners and sophisticated developers should review and update their strategies and studies – whether it is in relation to residential, retirement and aged care, health, commercial, industrial, retail or other asset classes. The findings that follow apply only to this region at this stage. Further work will determine the extent to which similar trends are evident in other major cities, or whether this is largely confined to the Brisbane region.

So what were the key Census findings that we found surprising?

“Everyone wants to live in the inner city.”

Plenty do, and according to the Census, inner Brisbane was home to 44,500 more people in the 2006-2016 period – an increase of 22% over the ten years. However, growth across the wider region amounted to an extra 418,000 people at a marginally increase of 23% over the same period. So for every extra person accommodated in the inner city, the metro area accommodated eight or nine.

“Ageing boomers want to live in the inner city”

We found no solid evidence to support this. While there are increased numbers of seniors almost right across the board, the percentage growth in the seniors cohort was much greater across metro Brisbane than for inner Brisbane. Inner Brisbane actually lost (shrunk) its population of 75-84 year olds – possibly a reflection of downsizing to lower cost housing and limited choice (lack of seniors housing supply). A heat map of the 65+ age group shows a marked ring around the inner city where this age group was in decline while outer areas were in growth. The inner city growth of the 65+ age group in this heap map mainly reflects those in the 65-74 year age group, but other (younger, sub 60) age groups in the same areas were growing faster, so some caution is needed in interpreting the meaning.

Household sizes are shrinking, there are more lone person households and the traditional family unit is in decline.

Wrong, wrong, wrong – at least according to the Census results. In both inner city and greater metro regions there is no evidence of falling household sizes, indeed they are larger than in 2006. Plus, the proportion of lone person households in both markets is marginally falling not rising, while the proportion of households consisting of a “couple with children” is stable across metro Brisbane and actually rising in the inner city. Indeed the growth of the family unit in the inner city was significant – from 18% in 2006 to 21% in 2016. This is supported by other Census data which shows that the percentage change in children aged 5-19 was faster in the inner city than across metro Brisbane.  Which suggests a stronger family appeal of the inner city than first thought, and perhaps the need to rethink past trends to smaller apartments with fewer rooms. This also has implications for planning of services and infrastructure – with the growth of some local inner city school populations endorsing the Census findings.

Dwelling growth has mostly been in apartments

Far from it. The detached house remains the biggest growth sector of the market across the region, adding some 55,000 dwellings since 2006 – far outstripping apartments at under 7,000 (note the ABS boundary for its inner city definition excludes some of the apartment hot spots). Granted, there are more apartments to come since the Census was taken in August 2016 but the difference is significant. What was surprising was that the second biggest growth in housing type was in the semi-detached sector, or what is fast becoming called “the missing middle.” According to these results, there is nothing missing about it: this housing form added some 30,000 extra dwellings across the region and also grew the fastest – at 60% growth since 2006 compared with 15% growth in apartments and 11% growth in detached  dwellings in the same period.

More density in the inner city means more people are abandoning their cars.

Somewhat surprisingly, the proportion of inner city households without a car actually fell from 2011 to 2016. Meaning relatively fewer inner city households are car-less now than 5 years ago.  Some 43% of inner city households have one car and a further 30% have two, while just over one in ten have three or more.

This is a short summary of some of the Census surprises identified by Macroplan for the Brisbane and SEQ region. If you are interested in these findings or would like Macroplan to do a Census presentation to you or your organisation, please contact either Mark Courtney or Ross Elliott or call 07 3221 8166.

About the author:

Ross Elliott Senior Business Advisor E: 
Ross brings close to 30 years’ experience in property and business consulting to Macroplan. Ross previously worked for the Property Council, as Executive Director and later National Chief Operating Officer. He was also inaugural National Executive Director for the Residential Development Council.  A prolific writer on urban economics he has a number of publications to his name and is nationally recognised for his ongoing contribution to public policy debate.