Comparing population growth by area – the real story

In a recent release of population growth data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that South Morang [1] had the biggest population increase in Melbourne during 2015-16, with almost 5,000 people added. Other suburbs with high growth included Cranbourne East, Craigieburn – Mickleham and Point Cook (see Table 1 and Figure 1).

South Morang is 60km2 in area, making it one of Melbourne’s largest suburbs. The median suburb size in Melbourne is around 8km2 and the average is around 36km2. Many of the growing suburbs cited by the ABS (see table 1) are also the largest in terms of area.

Table 1: Melbourne suburbs with largest population growth

Source: ABS Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2015-16

Figure 1: Melbourne suburbs with largest population growth

Source: ABS Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2015-16, SGS Economics and Planning


To provide an alternative method of comparing growth across Melbourne, SGS combined suburbs to produce areas of roughly 60km2 each – the equivalent area of the suburb of South Morang. Although the mix of land uses within each ~60km2 area will impact growth, taking this alternative approach reveals a somewhat different population growth story (see Table 2 and Figure 2).

The 60km2 area with the largest population growth in Melbourne was, by far, the combined areas of the Melbourne City and Port Phillip where 9,300 people were added in 2015-16. Furthermore, three areas experienced growth of around 5,000 people: the Inner North (which includes the suburbs of Brunswick, Thornbury, and Fitzroy), Cranbourne and Cranbourne East, and South Morang. When combined, the 10 largest growing areas accounted for around 40 per cent of Melbourne’s population growth during 2015-2016.

Table 2: Melbourne areas of 60 km2 with largest population growth

Source: SGS based on ABS Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2015-16

** For completeness Craigieburn – Mickleham and Epping have also been included in Table 1 despite being much larger than the 60 km2 benchmark.

Growth Fronts

As shown in Figure 2, the areas which experienced the highest growth are in the inner suburbs (typically driven by apartment developments), the west of Melbourne, and the northern and south eastern growth areas (typically driven by detached housing).

The large growth in the inner city population is a result of high amenity, and superior access to jobs and services. However, there is still pressure to maintain this amenity and level of accessibility in the face of the large population increase.

The seaside amenity, two train lines, and mix of medium density and detached housing sees the Bayside area at 7th on the growth ranking.

The growth in Melbourne’s west stretches from Footscray, where there is a booming apartment market, to the greenfield subdivisions of Tarneit. This growth has exacerbated pressure on infrastructure, job access and service provision. At the same time, the population growth has provided a range of economic opportunities for Melbourne’s west.

Growth in Melbourne’s outer north has been spread across greenfield subdivisions from Craigieburn through Epping to South Morang. In the past decade this corridor has grown by over 100,000 people. This has created challenges in accessing jobs and services, and placed pressure on local and regional infrastructure.

As seen in Figure 2, the growth in the south east of Melbourne in Keysborough, Noble Park and Springvale [2], and Cranbourne is driven by greenfield development. These parts of Melbourne have better access to local services and infrastructure than their northern counterparts. However, there is still a short fall in job access and local infrastructure in these rapidly growing areas.

Figure 2: Melbourne areas of 60 km2 with largest population growth

Source: ABS Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2015-16, SGS Economics and Planning

Missing Middle

Perhaps the biggest observation from Figure 2 is the clear ‘missing middle’ in Melbourne population growth pattern. While still increasing in population, few areas in the middle ring experienced strong population growth.

The middle ring suburbs are well suited to medium density housing (townhouses, terraces and dual occupancies). However, this type of housing has been notoriously difficult to deliver. This missed opportunity has impacted on housing affordability and diversity. While there has been a considerable amount of inner city apartments and greenfield detached housing delivered, the middle ring has failed to deliver much housing.

The middle ring suburbs are some of the most infrastructure rich parts of the city in terms of transportation, retail and community services, open space and schools. Fostering more population growth in these areas by increasing the supply of medium density housing will help to provide an alternative to apartments and greenfield housing. In addition, it will help provide significant infrastructure savings for government.


[1] In most cases Statistical Area 2 align with suburb boundaries. For more on the Statistical Area Level 2 please see here

[2] The bulk of the population growth is coming from residual greenfield area in Keysborough.

Other related articles include Sydney @ 5 Million and SGS Seminar: Melbourne's growing economy - Who is being left behind?