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Regional district's population expected to double by 2031

In the next 25 years the population of the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is expected to more than double.The prediction comes from an annual B.C.

In the next 25 years the population of the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is expected to more than double.The prediction comes from an annual B.C. Stats report that projects the population of the province and its regions, based on demographics and economic trends. It is designed as a tool to help local governments plan for increased demands for public services such as schools, hospitals, and roads. The SLRD is projected as the fastest-growing region in the province between now and 2031.

Paul Edgington, SLRD administrator, said the population projections are consistent with findings related to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), a long-term planning project that deals with growth management and economic issues over a 20-year period for the SLRD area.

The RGS is a high-level approach to planning, which identifies and prioritizes goals across the region. Edgington said the 100 per cent growth rate is no surprise.

"If you look at Squamish, there is an excess of 5,000 residential units in one stage of development or another. In Squamish alone, the population could double," Edgington said.

SLRD Chair John Turner said the projected growth reveals the importance of the RGS. He said growth is expected in the southern end of the SLRD, from Pemberton to Squamish. In Porteau Cove, Turner said, up to 1,400 units are expected to house about 3,000 people. Furry Creek is expected to expand from 140 to 930 homes.

"There is also a lot of development in Britannia because it is transitioning from a mining town into a regular type community," Turner said. "In Squamish there are all kinds of projects in the works."

Turner admits that everything the SLRD plans under the RGS is in response to the projected spike in population. The intention of the RGS is to examine regional issues such as land use, transportation, housing, economic development, social issues, ecological stewardship, parks and natural areas, and regional services.

"I guess one of the key issues is to make sure we have various types of housing available. We want to make sure housing is affordable and we are not alone in that. Affordable housing is an issue in the Lower Mainland as well," Turner said.

According to the B.C. Stats report, the B.C. population is getting larger and older. In the next 25 years the population will have increased by more the 37 per cent and the median age of the population will have increased from 37.9 to 46.2 years.

Turner said the beauty of the region is one reason for the projections. B.C. Stats states that a major factor driving population growth will be migration to the province, which is expected to account for 64 per cent of the population gain. The SLRD is no exception.

"I think the highway improvements will be a big draw because the roads are straighter and have more opportunities for passing," Turner said. "If you compare Squamish with White Rock or Abbotsford, the commute into the city is shorter."

As new units become available, Turner predicts more people will be drawn out of the Lower Mainland. He said housing is simply not as available in Vancouver and young families will come. He also said retirees might be drawn to the area for its rural character. "Another key of the RGS is to develop some employment opportunities so eventually people can live, work, and play in their own communities," Turner said.

With population growth comes the demand for other sorts of development. Turner said the RGS will help put things into perspective such as the need to maintain green spaces. He said the SLRD wants to avoid communities that blend together without a distinct separation.

"I think that the mountains and the idea of living near mountain adventure opportunities is very appealing to a number of people," Edgington said. "People might telecommute or find employment within the communities. It's the beauty and opportunities to earn a livelihood that make this such an attractive area."

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