1216.0.55.005 - Review outcomes for Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), 2020  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/09/2020  First Issue
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Experimental Urban Centres and Localities and Remoteness Areas
The ABS plan to release experimental Urban Centre and Locality (UCL) and Remoteness Area boundaries using alternative methods and criteria in addition to the official boundaries.The purpose of these experimental boundaries is to more accurately and consistently define the extent of urban areas and to allow users to access data about populations or businesses in peri-urban areas. Key features of the alternative methods and criteria being proposed are:

    • Experimental UCLs will be constructed from Mesh Blocks of urban character, rather than SA1s
    • Mesh Blocks are considered to be urban in character if they have a population density of 200 persons per sqkm or greater, or if they contain urban infrastructure such as schools, hospitals or commercial precincts
    • Non-contiguous UCLs will be permitted
    • A new Rural Residential category will be assigned to Mesh Blocks outside of UCLs, where the Mesh Block has a population density of 25 persons per sqkm or greater. This category will provide a consistent definition for users to access data about populations or businesses in residential areas outside urban centres or localities.

Further information about the methods and criteria will be provided in the experimental release which will include:
    • Digital experimental UCL boundaries, with the new Rural Residential category included as part of an experimental Section of State classification
    • Digital experimental Remoteness Area boundaries derived from the experimental UCLs
    • Provision to access some Census data aggregated to these experimental boundaries
    • Analysis of the differences between official and experimental UCL and Remoteness Area boundaries

These experimental UCL and Remoteness Area boundaries will not be an official part of ASGS Ed. 3 and will be released at a later date in a separate publication clearly marked as experimental to differentiate them from the official areas. Through this experimental release, the ABS will provide users and stakeholders a chance to evaluate the utility of the new methods and criteria prior to potential implementation in ASGS Ed. 4, scheduled for release in 2026. The ABS also wishes to minimise confusion to users and stakeholders by clearly labeling this release as experimental.

The reasons for releasing the experimental boundaries in addition to official boundaries are:

    • To provide time series and methodological stability for ASGS Ed. 3 while the proposed criteria are being evaluated
    • To allow users to evaluate how the proposed criteria will affect UCLs for the whole of Australia and provide detailed feedback to the ABS
    • To allow users to explore innovative uses for the proposed new Rural Residential classification
    • To allow the ABS to identify any unforeseen issues arising from applying the new UCL criteria.

Consultation on Experimental Urban Centres and Localities and Remoteness Areas
During consultation in 2019, test Urban Centre and Locality (UCL) boundaries for a subset of Australia were provided to users for evaluation. Most users were supportive of the proposed changes, however a number of potential issues were raised. These included concerns about:
    • Stability over time
    • Data availability at the Mesh Block level
    • The impact of discontiguous UCLs, particularly on determining Remoteness Areas
    • The appropriateness of the proposed population density threshold for a new Rural Residential category

Although the change in criteria will result in a change in time series, UCLs by definition are a dynamic geography, designed to accurately reflect the extent of urban areas in Australia. ABS data will be available to users at the UCL level regardless of the building blocks from which they are aggregated.

Some stakeholders queried the process for determining a Rural Residential population density criteria of 25 persons per sqkm. A range of methods using cadastre (land parcel) size, address point density and population density were tested. On balance, a threshold of 25 persons per sqkm was found to most consistently differentiate rural residential areas from other regions with distinct rural or urban characteristics.

Investigation has also been undertaken regarding the concerns over having discontiguous UCLs. One key concern was the potential impact of these on Remoteness Areas. The ABS conducted a test revision of Remoteness Areas for part of Australia in collaboration with the Hugo Centre for Population and Housing. There were a small number of changes in Remoteness Area boundaries resulting from changes to UCLs, however these were not widespread.

The ABS was also able to determine that the current criteria for Remoteness Areas is still meaningful, regardless of changes to the UCL criteria. Experimental Remoteness Areas will be included in the experimental release to ensure that users have a clear idea of how Remoteness Areas will be affected.

Following the experimental release, the ABS will conduct further consultation with stakeholders to decide whether the alternative methods and criteria should be adopted for ASGS Ed. 4 in 2026.

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