Rich retirees hold Northern Rivers' future in their hands

WELL-HEELED older tree-changers are expected to breathe new life into the Northern Rivers region over the coming years.

About 818 people are moving into Lismore, Byron Bay, the Richmond Valley, Kyogle and Ballina every year.

Analysis of new Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the region's population grew by 8189 people from 2004 to 2014.

There are now 150,906 people living here compared to 142,717 in 2004.

Ballina had the highest growth over the 10 years with 2524 people moving into the area.

Byron Bay came in second with 1978 new residents and the Richmond Valley, on 1816 new residents, pushed Lismore, with 1287, into fourth place.

Kyogle had the lowest growth with just six more people calling the area home between 2004 and 2014.

Australian population and economy expert John Rolfe said the restructure of the dairy industry hit the Northern Rivers hard.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

The CQUniversity School of Business and Law professor said catering to cashed-up retirees seeking a laid back tree-change could give the area a new lease on life.

"Northern NSW is a bit of a basket case economically," Mr Rolfe said.

He said tapping the flow of superannuation money will probably lead more people to move to the area for its lifestyle.

"They'll grow a bit more because of the lifestyle factor but I don't see much other economic input into the region."

Ballina Shire Council strategic and community facilities group manager Steve Barnier said council planners were expecting 46,300 residents by 2025.

"The council proactively plans for the growth that is anticipated to occur and seeks to ensure that sufficient housing opportunities are available to accommodate the demand," Mr Barnier said.

The council is preparing the Ballina Major Regional Centre Strategy to guide the development and infrastructure needed for growth over the next 20 years.

Lismore City Council is preparing for "sustained moderate growth" with more land earmarked for development and a strategy aimed at guiding population increases over the next 20 years.

"Lismore is well placed to see a continued population increase," the council's general manager, Gary Murphy, said.

"Sustained moderate growth allows our economy to continue growing but also ensures we can keep pace with meeting infrastructure needs as the population increases."

Byron leaders are concerned by the need to balance growth with affordable land prices and maintaining the area's idyllic natural treasures.

"Growth needs to add to who we are, not threaten or weaken it," Mayor Simon Richardson said.

The region should be home to 36,000 residents by 2026.

The 900,000 day-trippers who visit each year are vital to the area's economy.

"Finding a balance will be an ongoing challenge and an opportunity to see where we can diversify, create new industries and look to best practice examples," he said.