Ballarat's population is continuing to rise steadily with more and more people moving to its fringes.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures, the population grew by 1,903 people last year, with more than half moving to Alfredton and Delacombe, while the city centre population stagnates. There are now 107,325 people in Ballarat, a 1.8% rise in the year up to September 2018.
Meanwhile, an exponential growth in Melbourne's population also brings implications for residents here.
Any growth areas need to have the appropriate infrastructure to be able to deal with the population. We have been planning for that. We have expected this growth pattern. Whether people like the growth or not, it's happening and we need to be ready for it.Mayor Samantha McIntosh
The Ballarat pattern mirrors trends in similar regional cities in Victoria, where the population is expanding faster than any other state in Australia (at 2.2 per cent). Bendigo grew by a marginally slower rate at 1.7 per cent, outstripped by the 2.6 per cent growth in Geelong, which had some of the most rapidly growing suburbs in the country.
While growth was relatively steady in regional towns, it was a different story in Melbourne. The state capital is booming with almost 400 new residents arriving every day - a trend that may directly impact many of Ballarat's residents.
The city's population has tipped over 5 million for the first time, with western areas such as Melton and Wyndham accounting for much of the new development. If the current growth continues, it is on course to take over Sydney as the country's most populous city by 2026.
For Nick Beale, the figures reinforce the need for substantial investment to allow Ballarat to adapt to growth - and stay well connected to Melbourne.
"The Committee for Ballarat have been talking for a long time about getting rail and road infrastructure properly ready for Melbourne's population growth on the fringes," he told The Courier.
"We will continue to advocate very strongly for both rail and road funding, both at State and Federal level."
"The area from Bacchus Marsh all the way to Deer Park Bypass is going to be really crunched up now and that's the area we are worried about."
He said there was a strong case for extra lanes on the highway from Melton to Deer Park Bypass, and that the growth underlined the need for rail duplication as soon as possible.
Mayor of Ballarat Samantha McIntosh said she was confident the city had the right planning in place. "We are absolutely ready," she said. "We need to do a lot more work, but we know there is space for growth.
"Any growth areas need to have the appropriate infrastructure to be able to deal with the population. We have been planning for that. We have expected this growth pattern. Whether people like the growth or not, it's happening and we need to be ready for it."
The key would be good connectivity, including IT, road, rail and air links, she said, with major infrastructure projects such as the Ballarat link road helping the city adapt.
Most growth has taken place towards the city's outer fringes, particularly to the west. The fastest growing suburb is Alfredton, which accounted for more than a third of the expansion with 739 more residents - a growth rate of 6.1 percent. Delacombe also grew rapidly at 5.2 per cent, while population declined slightly in the centre of the city for the second year in a row.
For Cr McIntosh, there is scope to encourage more people to move into the centre. "I don't think we're seeing enough infill and upper level development," she said. "The upstairs of the shops are vacant and there's not residential accommodation or inner city living to the degree that there needs to be."
"We would like to entice that inner city living, upper level re-use and infill development where appropriate."
Inner city development would, she said, need to be sympathetic with Ballarat's heritage character: "While we grow, we need to protect the personality of Ballarat."
Ballarat is expected to expand for some time. While this year's growth rate was marginally down - by 0.1 per cent - on last year, some predict it may soon double. The city is expected to be home to at least 200,000 people by 2050.
If plans to decentralise announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison take root, its population could be as high as 500,000 by that time, according to some estimates.
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