Thousands more people have moved to Abbotsford than BC Stats previously thought, leaving the city’s population pushing 160,000. File photo

With Abbotsford growing faster than previously thought, infrastructure spending may follow

B.C. statistical agency revises city’s population estimates upwards after years of moderate growth

Abbotsford has grown much faster in recent years than the province’s statistical agency previously estimated, leaving the city with thousands of previously unaccounted-for residents.

Instead of seeing moderate population growth in recent years, as BC Stats previously estimated, new figures suggest that Abbotsford was one of the fastest-growing cities in all of B.C.

The new numbers could explain pressures on Abbotsford’s housing, highways and hospitals, and could strengthen the hands of those calling for more services for the rapidly growing region. They also could bring the city more provincial cash.

“It does have funding implications for us,” Mayor Henry Braun said, pointing to gas tax revenue and traffic fine revenues that the city receives. “There are a whole host of things that come into play.”

He said the quicker growth rate could prompt the city to increase the rate at which it expands transit services. He said he plans to cite the growth rates while advocating for transportation projects in the Fraser Valley.

“I will be using this as another lever with the province and the federal government for the widening of Highway 1 and the commuter rail,” Braun said.

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The new population estimates now suggest Abbotsford had 158,457 as of last July. That’s dramatically higher than BC Stats estimated just 12 months ago.

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Population estimates revised

The reason for the disparity is in large part because of a change in who estimates population growth in B.C. BC Stats still releases the estimates, but Statistics Canada now is largely responsible for developing the numbers.

That may lead to more precise estimates.

“They have more information available to them that they can use to do the estimates,” Frank Ip, a senior population analyst with BC Stats, told The News. The transition between population analysts means “this year could be a little bit of a disruption and a surprise to people,” Ip said.

The agency released its latest population estimates last week with no indication that last year’s Abbotsford’s numbers had been revised upwards.

The figures show Abbotsford grew significantly faster between 2014 and 2018 than previously believed.

Last January, the provincial agency said that, as of July 2018, Abbotsford had close to 152,000 residents and had grown by between 1.4 and 1.6 per cent over each of the last four years. The agency suggested Abbotsford had welcomed just shy of 9,000 new residents between 2014 and 2018.

Now, the agency believes nearly 13,000 people moved to the city over that time period, and that growth rates were between 1.9 and 2.7 per cent – putting Abbotsford among the fastest-growing municipalities in the province. BC Stats believes Abbotsford’s population grew by another 1.9 per cent between July 2018 and July 2019.

Abbotsford’s population is now estimated to have grown by 20,000 people between 2012 and 2019.

Given the record-setting development in recent years, Braun said he had an inkling that the city’s growth may have been underestimated.

“Anecdotally and by driving around town and observing things, I kind of thought we might be growing faster than we thought, but I didn’t expect to be at 158 either,” he said.

Faster growth also means that the goals and plans envisioned in Abbotsford’s Official Community Plan – which envisions a community of 200,000 people – may need to be accelerated. The new figures suggest the city will reach that population target sooner than first expected.

“It tells me we have to ramp up on a few things a little earlier than we planned,” Braun said.

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