Wellesley and Woolwich townships experienced considerable growth between 2006 and 2011, according to the latest Census numbers released last week by Statistics Canada. Woolwich saw a 17.7 per cent increase in population as nearly 3,500 more people moved to the township, bringing the total population up to 23,145. In Wellesley, population grew by 9.4 per cent, with almost 1,000 new residents bringing the total to 10,713. The growth rates in both townships were significantly higher than Waterloo Region as a whole, which saw its population grow by 6.1 per cent to 507,096 over that same five-year period. Across Canada, population grew by 5.9 per cent and the national population now sits at 33,476,688.
“We were certainly aware that we were growing at a very robust rate, so this doesn’t come as any surprise,” said Dan Kennaley, director of engineering and planning in Woolwich, who added that the growth in population substantiates the township’s investment in capital projects such as the Woolwich Memorial Centre, the new township hall, the Breslau Community Centre and the new fire halls in Floradale and Breslau, just to name a few.
The majority of the growth in Woolwich was focused in the Breslau area, which experienced an astounding 215 per cent growth in population, from 766 in 2006 to 2,415 just five years later.
Kennaley said that growth was a direct result of the settlement’s proximity to Kitchener and Waterloo, as well as the absence of staging policies to limit growth. Developers Thomasfield Homes and Empire Homes paid for the extension of services and a new sewer line to Breslau, enabling the growth to occur, but as part of the agreement there could be no limitations on that growth imposed by the township.
By comparison, the staging policies in Elmira provide for a maximum of 90 units per year, and in St. Jacobs it’s 20 units.
The township is now embarking on a secondary plan to limit further growth in Breslau by establishing staging policies in that area, and staff is of the opinion that future growth needs to be smarter, and better controlled.
“We are getting some indication from Breslau that growth has been occurring there too quickly. It’s been too much over that period of time.
“It is sometimes difficult for the existing residents because they end up living in a construction site, and there are other impacts in terms of increased traffic and increased demand for services and so on.”
Wellesley Township faces a different set of challenges, however, as the settlement area of Wellesley village has nearly reached its full capacity, and there are few provisions for expansion in any of the other settlement areas because of a lack of water or sewage services, said chief administration officer Susan Duke.
Nearly all of the growth in the township was focused in Wellesley Village, as the population grew by 886 people, but until the sewage treatment plant is updated by the region, which Duke estimates won’t happen until 2016, there is only room for about 290 more single family units in the area.
“The other settlement areas are also very restricted by limitations on servicing. There is no municipal sewage system in any other settlement in Wellesley Township. There is water in Heidelberg, St. Clements and Linwood, but no sewer, and there are no services at all in Hawkesville, from a municipal perspective.”
To that end the township is working hard to encourage more businesses to locate in Wellesley through its completed Employment Lands Strategy, and staff is set to embark upon a residential growth strategy as well.
Duke says the key is to avoid stagnation in the face of a lack of future growth. Several communities experienced a significant drop in population, including Linwood (31.5 per cent), Hawkesville (36.1 per cent), and St. Clements (29.6 per cent).
“What’s the opposite of growth? It is a stagnant situation, but much worse you could have an exodus, because if the municipality cannot afford to provide the services that the people require, than the people are going to do the next best thing, and that is find somewhere that can or does or will, and so they move.”
Yet she also cautioned against reading too much into the statistics, as families in the township have begun moving away from large 10- to 15-member families more common in the past, which could skew the numbers in some communities, particularly the smaller ones.
Both townships urged the need for balance in their future approaches to growth, and to continue to ensure that they provide their residents with the services that they require, and to continue to look forward into the future with a careful approach to planning.
“I’m certainly not suggesting that growth isn’t necessarily bad, it does have its upside,” said Kennaley, “but it can have a downside as well if it occurs too quickly.”