MELBOURNE is squeezing up. A record 93,500 more people poured into the city in 2008-09, the biggest population growth any Australian city has seen.
Bureau of Statistics figures have raised dramatically estimates of population growth in Melbourne and regional Victoria, with the city now estimated to have topped 4 million people by July.
Sixty per cent of last year's record growth was on the urban fringe, where 55,586 more people joined those living more than 20 kilometres from the city centre. High housing prices closer in forced buyers to the outskirts.
Wyndham, the municipality that covers Werribee, alone grew by 10,758, or 8 per cent. Fifteen years ago, that was almost as much as the whole of Victoria was growing.
Casey, in the Berwick-Cranbourne area, grew by 8430. The Melton council area, including new suburbs such as Caroline Springs, grew by 7306, and Whittlesea, in the north-east, swelled by 6537.
Pakenham, 57 kilometres from the city and right on Melbourne's official boundary, had population growth of 10 per cent in a year, from 33,710 to 37,081.
By contrast, in the settled suburbs of Melbourne, growth was all over the place.
In central Melbourne, growth actually slowed as developers scrapped plans for apartment towers. But in virtually all suburbs, population grew at its fastest in years as many more people had to fit in somewhere.
Populations grew by more than 2000 in inner-suburban Moreland, Port Phillip and Glen Eira, and in middle-suburban Brimbank, Boroondara and Monash. There was similarly strong growth outside the city's boundaries. Geelong and the Surf Coast soared by almost 4000, Ballarat and Bendigo by more than 2000 each, and towns from Mildura to Colac and Bairnsdale shared in the growth.
Nationally, the figures show the revival of serious growth in Sydney, where the population rose by 85,394 to top 4.5 million. Five years before, Sydney had fallen to fourth in growth behind Perth and Brisbane, its population rising just 23,374 as the young deserted a city where they could not afford a home.
The figures also show that the population centre of Melbourne is moving west, drawn to new suburbs there. In the past three years, the population centre has leapt the Monash Freeway and is now in someone's backyard in York Road, Glen Iris, heading for Malvern.
Premier John Brumby last night defended projections of Victoria's population growth, saying it should be seen in the context of a growing economy.
"Victoria has dealt with such population growth before . . . and emerged a more productive, sustainable and liveable state because of it like when Melbourne's population doubled in the postwar boom," he told a cities conference.
"While long-term projections are notoriously volatile, we can reasonably expect that economic growth will outstrip population growth."
Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday reiterated his support for population growth. "The answer isn't to stop growing, it's to grow differently", he told a conference in Brisbane.
The National Farmers Federation called for tax breaks to get people to move to country towns.
Inner ring (0-10 km)
1 Melbourne 3580 4.0%
2 Moreland 2861 2.0%
3 Port Phillip 2125 2.3%
TOTAL 16,286 2.0
Middle ring (10-20 km)
4 Brimbank (Sunshine) 4326 2.4%
5 Monash (Glen Waverly) 2901 1.7%
6 Boorondara (Camwell) 2288 1.4%
TOTAL 21,606 1.6%
Outer ring (more than 20 km)
7 Wyndham (Werribee) 10,758 8.1%
8 Casey (Berwick) 8430 3.5%
9 Melton 7306 7.9%
10 Whittlesea (S Morang) 6537 4.7%
11 Hume (Craigieburn) 879 3.0%
12 Cardinia (Pakenham) 4172 6.5%
TOTAL 55,586 3.3%
ALL MELBOURNE 93,478 2.4