VICTORIA’S state government has called on regional communities to accommodate further growth as the state’s population continues to rise. The message came from acting Minister for Rural and Regional Development Peter Walsh as he addressed Friday’s Committee for Economic Development of Australia conference in Creswick. Mr Walsh said the regions had greater capacity for growth than Melbourne. “Regional Victoria’s population has been growing by more than 1.2 per cent each year in the past decade — from 1.3 million in 2000 to 1.47 million in 2010. “This growth rate has been exceeded by Melbourne’s growth of 1.6 per cent per year over the same period,” Mr Walsh said. He said Melbourne’s growth rate represented an increase from 3.47 million to 4.08 million last year. Mr Walsh called for balanced growth, which he said would significantly reduce the strain on metropolitan Melbourne’s services and infrastructure. He said the government was required to plan for growth across the state’s regions and cities. “The Victorian government has a long-term and forward-focused framework to build on the positive trends in regional growth and to support and develop locally driven solutions,” Mr Walsh said. A $1 billion Regional Growth Fund will be delivered over eight years to address the planned population boom. City of Ballarat mayor Craig Fletcher and council chief executive Anthony Schinck also took part in the conference program, meeting with regional stakeholders. Cr Fletcher said the conference would lead to solutions for the challenges of growth in the region. The conference came as member for Ballarat Catherine King hit back at claims the Gillard Government had neglected regional centres. “Presumably the (Grattan) Institute thinks that investing $42 million in the Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre or $20 million for an upgraded dental clinic will make little difference to the city and region,” Ms King said.