A research agency says more public and private investment in housing and infrastructure is needed in the Northern Grampians immediately, as the region's population is projected to grow rather than shrink in the next three years.
Ripehouse Advisory's Great Australian Population Shift Report, released on Monday, forecasts the shire's population to grow by 1.92 per cent - or to 11,568 people - by June 2023.
Ararat's population could grow by 1.5 per cent over the same timeframe, where the ABS has forecast 0.5 per cent growth. The Wimmera's other four LGAs are predicted to see modest population decline.
Chief executive Jacob Field said Australian Bureau of Statistics data previously suggested it would fall by 2.47 per cent over the same timeframe.
He said the Northern Grampians was in the top five shires in Victoria set to benefit from intrastate relocation during and following the pandemic.
"Our findings have revealed what we have called a 'golden circle' set to emerge around key population centres. This is in the wake of COVID-19, but it's caused by people moving away from the population centres chasing lifestyle changes... so we could be seeing far higher population growth than previously forecast," he said.
Mr Field said the group had consulted with real estate agents in its network, including in Ballarat and Bendigo, to create estimates for each municipality in Australia. As part of its analysis, it has discounted international migration as contributing to population growth.
"Northern Grampians has a lack of reliance on international migration, plus from our research, it is one of those areas Melburnians escape to en masse. Our research has shown they travel to the region with far more regularity than others, or will do so going forward," Mr Field said.
"You're also seeing a mass exodus from high-density inner city suburbs: People wanting a bit more space and having a bit more flexibility with work, so that intrastate migration number is potentially turning up."
Mr Field said population growth was difficult to achieve, but never happened by accident.
"It takes investment from public and private sources to generate an area that people want to move to," he said.
"When you have changes to population growth, say it will turn around by 4.5 per cent, that is changing to a large degree... the resources the region will require. it's going to create a massive deficit for public housing if it's not in the pipeline at the moment.
"it take sone or two years to create a new shopping centre or road complex out to new subdivisions, and what our research is showing is people are moving there now, towards the second half of the year."
Mr Field said housing deficits would create "upward pressure" on prices and rents in the region.
He said a strong local government was important for attracting such investment, and that cities such as Devonport, in Tasmania, Ipswich in Queensland and Geelong had successfully overcome housing shortages in recent years by virtue of this.
The Northern Grampians shire's population was 11,402 on June 30, according to profile.id.com.au.
Ripehouse Advisory based its projections on the following assumptions:
- A vaccine for COVID-19 will be available by July 2021.
- International Borders will remain closed to the majority of countries until a vaccine (for migrants and tourists).
- NZ will be included in an Australian tourist and migrant BUBBLE, from September onwards.
- Interstate migration will not be restricted from September onwards, but less people will be migrating interstate due to employment, retirement or family.
- Tree/sea changer migrants will increase in numbers, but there will be a preference to staying in their home state.