One of my biggest hopes from the changes to Auckland’s local government currently underway is that we will have a stronger voice at the “bargaining table” with central government. I think there’s a reason why central governments have – over the past 150 years or so – avoided creating a strong and unified local government for Auckland, that reason being the risk that Auckland would become too powerful. So we have seen a “divide and rule” attitude towards New Zealand’s biggest city, with battles between the councils weakening Auckland’s negotiating position with central government for the funding that it needs – particularly the funding that it needs for infrastructure.

A figure that often gets bandied about is that Auckland pays far more in petrol taxes than it receives in transport spending – with the figure being in the many billions of dollars over the past 20-30 years. This trend has been stopped in the past five or so years – mainly through the insane amount of motorway building that has occurred, but also through  the first real investment in the rail network for around 80 years. Auckland has finally received – at least on a per capita level – the funding that it deserves.

But is ‘per capita’ really the best way to measure what could be called “transport infrastructure need”? In parts of the country where the population is static, growing very slowly or even declining, will the transport infrastructure need be particularly great? I tend to think not. Invercargill is unlikely to need any new motorways any time soon, and while certainly we need to ensure there is adequate maintenance of transport facilities in areas with stable populations – I just doubt there will be much need for significant new infrastructure in these places.

Looking at population data – both historical and projected – from Statistics New Zealand provides a really interesting insight into the extent to which Auckland truly dominates New Zealand’s population growth. Firstly, let’s look at historical data over the last three censuses – showing how Auckland’s population growth between 1996 and 2006 compared to the country’s growth as a whole: This shows that in the 1996-2006 decade Auckland’s population growth absolutely dwarfed growth in the other big cities: Wellington and Christchurch, and also contributed to more than half of New Zealand’s population growth. Auckland’s population increased by more than 256,000 whereas the entire remainder of the country only increased its population by slightly more than 196,000.

Because Auckland is the primarily settlement area for immigrants, and because Auckland’s population is much younger than the rest of the country (people come here to study, work and have families – people move to the rest of the country to retire) in the future this trend continues and becomes even more exaggerated: During these 25 years (four of which have already happened, it will be interesting to see the data that comes out of the 2011 census) Auckland’s population increase of 573,700 is significantly more than the increase experienced by the rest of NZ – of 390,300. For every one new resident in the Wellington region, Auckland adds 7.6; for every new resident in the Canterbury region Auckland adds more than five. Auckland’s population will grow by three times the number of Wellington and Canterbury combined.

Push the dates out to 2050 and, as we might expect, the trend becomes even more significant. By this stage the rest of the country’s population is declining – due to its aged demographics. However, because of Auckland’s high level of immigration and its youthful population – we’re still growing: from 1.9 million in 2031 to over 2.3 million by 2051. ARTA pointed this out in a recent presentation they made to the NZTA board: If we take 2006-2051 as a whole, we see that Auckland’s population is set to grow by around a million, while throughout the entire remainder of the country there’s only anticipated to be a population increase of around 330,000. These are quite staggering numbers: both in terms of how dramatically Auckland’s population will grow, but also how little the population of the rest of NZ will grow during this time.

So what does this all mean? Well in terms of transport investment it provides a damn strong argument for why Auckland will need significant transport investment – particularly in rail projects as we really have just about built all the motorways we could ever hope to construct. It is an excellent argument for why Auckland deserves a far better deal when it comes to ‘new transport infrastructure’ investment, that even receiving equal ‘per capita’ funding with the rest of the country is inevitably going to leave us with a massive infrastructure deficit in the future.

This information really shows how much of a raw deal Auckland has got over the past few decades when it comes to transport investment. Let’s hope that the new Super City puts an all-time end to this and Auckland finally gets the investment focus that we need.

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33 comments

  1. I think that almost what ever happens it is going to be hard for Auckland to get a fair deal. The problem is that many people in the rest of the country resent the city for provincial reasons and already think it is unfair how much funding we get, I also get the feeling sometimes that they think all money should be divided up equally to each region so that every area gets the same amount. This isn’t helped when many of the people running the country are from outside the city so naturally want to look after their electorate. It is going to take a strong coucil, government and some education on things like the projected population growth for Auckland to get a chance of a fair share of money.

  2. our country is not unique in having a “primate city economy” – that is where one city is so much bigger than any other in the country – often defined as being at least twice as large as the next largest city and at least twice as “important” economically. Other countries include England (London), Thailand (Bangkok), France (Paris), Mexico (Mexico City), and similar sized countries include Ireland (Dublin) and Finland (Helsinki).
    However, are we the only country to have such a primate city, but that is not the capital city? All other examples appear to be the capital.
    This appears to place us in a bizarre situation – having such a primate city (economically vital and important), but government reluctant to invest too much for fear of upsetting the rest of the country. That is truly ridiculous and as I say, potentially unique.

    1. The Australian states have even stronger primate cities, and the suffer much the same urban rural issues in the state parliaments although the state capitals easily have the balance of power.

      For example 72% of the 5.5 million Victorians live in Melbourne, 74% of the 2.2 million West Australians live in Perth, 63% of the 7.1 million New South Welshmen live in Sydney, and it goes up to about 75% if you include the whole Newcastle to Wollongong area.

      If NZ was similar, that would mean an Auckland of 3.2 million people!

  3. Matt, that is absolutely correct. My mum (who lives in Hamilton) refuses to believe that Auckland has had significant underinvestment over the years regardless of what numbers I can quote.

  4. One thing that will happen is that as the population in Auckland increases so, too, will the number of MPs elected by Aucklanders. One of the things that most rankles the cockies, especially in the deep south, is that MPs are elected on population not land area. They point to the huge swathes of the South Island that’re “blue” against the much smaller areas that’re “red”, and complain that clearly the country is conservative were it not for the unfairness of MPs representing based on numbers of people – as opposed, one assumes, to numbers of sheep. Or maybe hectares-per-person. We’ll never have more MPs than the rest of the country, but it’s going to get pretty close. In 30 years’ time, it’s going to become very even. Unfortunately, in 30 years’ time we’ll be so thoroughly screwed in terms of infrastructure investment that it won’t matter. Horse, door, bolted.

    Auckland’s only chance is a Labour/Greens coalition, as it’s urban dwellers who vote for those parties, by and large, and the party hierarchies know it. Consider this site, for a graphical representation and good explanation of how the US demographic breaks down – the Democrats are urban dwellers, even in “red” states, who vote based on urban issues such as pollution, public transport, and socially-liberal values. The Republicans are largely non-urban, even in “blue” states, and they vote on socially-conservative values along with a healthy dose of, to be polite, apathy about environmental concerns. Reverse the colours and NZ isn’t so different: the rural areas are mostly National-voting, based on socially-conservative values and a “business before environment” attitude toward things such as resource management; the urban areas, when they vote, are mostly socially-liberal, concerned about the environment, and less inclined toward supporting “business uber alles” parties.

    The big fly in the ointment, as you say, is the provincial parochialism of most of the rest of the country, resentful (at best) of Auckland’s status, frequently ignorant about Auckland other than word-of-mouth from people who know someone whose uncle’s-neighbour’s-nephew’s-third-cousin-twice-removed went to Auckland and hated it. Back in 1972. Those people vote too, mostly for National, and a lot of the National MPs they vote for hold similar views. They can’t get beyond seeing NZ as a country of farmers, a global milk bar, and will resist strongly anything that challenges that perspective. B’linglish is a prime example, being an umpteenth-generation farmer, brother of the President of Federated Farmers, and the product of a rural Southland upbringing. His disdain for Auckland is evident, and is likely a significant factor in his appeal to his electorate. The other key players, Joyce and Key, either have significant provincial backgrounds (Joyce) or represent electorates on the urban/rural boundary (Key).

    One interesting thing I’ve just noticed is that no minister in the current government represents an area that’s well-served by rail, other than Pull-ya Benefit (Waitakere) and Crusher Coddington (Papakura). Most of them have no rail service of any kind (all the North Shore MPs, all the List MPs (obviously), and nobody from urban Wellington), and Helensville is barely served by rail at all, never mind served well. I wonder how much that factors into the general opposition to funding anything that’s not a road.

    1. You must be trolling here. Multi-millionaire currency trader, Parnell dweller, son of a European refugee John Key is a rural social conservative? Get real!

      Auckland is fairly blue at the moment. The red cities are those like Dunedin and Christchurch that are old fashioned and barely growing (Christchurch) or in decline (Dunedin). And Wellington, of course, where the local economy is built on taxes and a film industry that may or may not still exist next week.

      The socially-conservative electorates aren’t in rural areas. The Wairarapa farmers elected the world’s first transsexual MP after all. Instead they’re South Auckland and Porirua, where there are large god-fearing Polynesian communities. South Auckland was solidly behind Len Brown, and a church based get-out-the-vote campaign was a factor in his success.

      “frequently ignorant about Auckland other than word-of-mouth from people who know someone whose uncle’s-neighbour’s-nephew’s-third-cousin-twice-removed went to Auckland and hated it. Back in 1972”

      I think this says way more about your attitude towards the rest of NZ, rather than the rest of NZ’s attitude to Auckland.

        1. Probably. Although I don’t think it is purely a matter of population, since small dense areas (eg Singapore) are easier and cheaper to supply infrastructure to then large empty areas (eg Western Australia). So I wouldn’t deprive the West Coast of new infrastructure funding just because their population is mostly stable, and especially since so many domestic and international visitors use their services.

          Also I’m happy with a degree of cross-subsidisation between successful (Auckland and, to a degree, Wellington) areas and less successful ones on the basis that I don’t want to see provincial NZ become a back water. That would make NZ look too much like the UK where London dominates government, business, finance, law, education, medicine, entertainment, culture, the military (trivia: there are more COMBAT troops based inside the M25 then there are in Wales), and the media, while bits of the north are run down welfare ghettos.

      1. obi, I didn’t say that Key is one, I said that’s the electorate he represents. You deny that Helensville is on the urban/rural boundary and largely composed of farmers/lifestyle-block owners?

        As for my somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about people never having been to Auckland, there are places where it’s actually kinda like that. If they’ve been to Christchurch, they’re well-travelled, and they certainly don’t want to cross Cook Strait. That’s less and less true, but there are generations where that’s the case. And Christchurch is hardly inclined favourably toward Auckland, as you’d know if you spoke to people from there. I’ve encountered several people from Wellington and Christchurch whose knowledge of Auckland prior to visiting was word-of-mouth or impressions from media, and pretty much uniformly their words have been “I thought I’d hate Auckland, but you know, it’s actually pretty cool.” The last person who said that was a colleague up from Wellington for a fortnight who said that over lunch last Friday. Unprompted.

        You’ll find that a lot of Auckland is swing. It swung blue last time, and if the local body elections are any indication it may well swing red next time. Maungakiekie, Waitakere and Auckland Central all went from Labour to National in ’08, and in none of them did the votes for the candidate surpass 46% (45.55% in Maungakiekie was the highest) of votes cast. In all of them the difference between Labour and National was under 7% of votes cast. Of the remainder, Auckland’s probably best described as purple: Roughly even numbers of National and Labour, most of them very solidly one way or the other.

  5. Don’t forget that the number of South Island MPs is locked in legally at 16 general seats. So if the mainland were to become depopulated, it’ll still have 16 MPs representing Rotten-Borough-on-Avon.

    1. Damn. Didn’t know about that one.
      In some ways it’s a good thing, because it gives a growing Auckland (especially if we get big increases in population density in the central suburbs) more MPs due to the necessarily-smaller geographical area required to get the same number of voters in an electorate as are in each South Island electorate. In others, though, it’s just absurd, especially if the only part of the South Island that’s not declining in population becomes Christchurch.

      We’ll get some indication of what population shift is doing for Auckland late next year or early 2012, when the Electoral Commission carries out its next adjustment of electorate numbers and boundaries.

    2. The number of seats in parliament is not fixed. The number of seats in the South Island is held constant at 16 and the number of other electorates (Maori and North Island) are worked out to be proportional.

  6. I don’t know what the point of electorates are anymore. In this day and age of instant electronic communication and cheap air travel it seems completely pointless for MPs to have a designated area to represent. People talk about how no one elects list MPs, however I resent having my future decided by someone I didn’t get to vote for at all. I get no say on whether I think John Key would make a good MP seeing as he is not in my electrorate, yet he is making decisions that affect my electorate. That is fairer than list MPs how?

    1. There is a lot of point in having electorate MPs. For a local problem needing central govt attention, they should be the first port of call. An effective electorate MP really acts as the representative of their constituents. You’re kidding yourself if you really think the tyranny of distance has been overcome by telecomms and air travel.

      You didn’t get to vote for anyone on the list directly either. Pretty much any combination of those present on the list could end up in parliament if persons higher up on the list willingly stood aside (sure, it would take a conspiracy, but only a small one).

      But the point of a representative democracy isn’t that you voted for everyone in parliament, it is that your views are fairly represented in parliament. That’s the test of fairness here.

  7. Matt – throughly enjoy your posts…usually.

    But that last one was a load of proverbial. The stereotypes are all there – national voters are farmers, religious, scoff at the environment and don’t care for welfare (yawn).

    Assuming you are a labour voter, I guess I should consider you a communist who wants NZ to be insular and protected from the world, controlled by the unions? Of course not.

    Sadly, its continuing a trend on this board that has succumbed to play-ground name-calling of ministers. Its spoiling an excellent blog.

    Quoting US voting trends? Goodness me. The US democrats are no less

    1. KLK, if you look at where most National MPs are voted from, the mostly farmers label holds true. Almost no rural seats are held by anyone other than National, and that’s been the situation for decades. It’s not just a stereotype, it’s true.
      Environmentally callous? Federated Farmers routinely demonstrate zero regard for the long-term environmental costs of their activities: just look at what’s happened in Canterbury around water use. Willing to turf Labour for measures such as consumption standards for light bulbs and water-conservation measures in houses? Yup, that too. How is that not environmentally callous?
      Religious? Never said that regarding National voters. I said they’re socially conservative, and they are. Either that or National’s MPs aren’t voting in line with the thoughts of the voters who elect them. Voted against civil unions? Yup. Voted against homosexual law reform? Yup. Voted against lowering the drinking age? Yup. Voted for three-strikes? Absolutely. You can check the voting records if you want, but I wouldn’t expect a party whose MPs disregard the opinions of their voters to survive for very long.

      Is there more nuance to National voters than I indicated? Of course. But the National voters who hate on Auckland are the ones in rural electorates, voting for the likes of our esteemed Minister of Finance, who will scream bloody murder at the slightest hint of Auckland getting the infrastructure funding that historic growth patterns and future growth projections indicate ought be allocated in this city. It may not make you happy to be associated with such people, but it’s true.

  8. @uroskin

    Yes, but it is the size of each of those 16 south Island seats that sets the size of all general electorates,

    So in your world of say the South island population falling to 500K, then each electorate across the South island (and all of New Zealand)would have ~31K population, meaning Auckland’s number of seats would rise from the current total of around 22, to probably around 40.

    It is this fact that means in a few elections time, MMP will in reality be a supplementary member system, originally it started out as 60-60 it is currently 70-50 and will only become more pronounced as the Nth Island grows faster than the South.

    1. MMP won’t somehow morph into a supplementary member system. Supplementary member means that some seats are chosen in an electorate and some seats are chosen according to a party vote (either using the electorate vote totals or a separate party vote). These supplementary members are decided without reference to the number of electorate seats won by the party, in contrast to MMP which allocates list seats to complement the electorate seats and restore proportionality. As long as electorate and list vote totals are similar under MMP, proportionality can be achieved with less than half the MPs being list MPS. BTW, there are currently 122 MPs, 70 electorate and 52 list.

  9. I’d say be careful what you wish for. If Auckland had somehow got “what it deserved” all these years in terms of road tax paid and investments made, we’d probably have loads more motorways here and public transport would be even more marginal than it is now. Part of the advantage of high density living in Auckland is that it is more efficient to move people around so it makes some sense that, on a per capita basis, we get less funding. While there are various projects around the country that seem pretty stupid to me, we certainly have our fair share of stupid projects in Auckland.

    The real problem is over-investment in roads throughout the country, and there is a strong lobby who makes exactly the same sort of argument as you are making here to ensure that it stays that way: groups like the AA say that all petrol taxes and road user charges should go exclusively into building better facilities for motorists.

    1. That is a good point David. I’m really interested in the future population trends more than the past though.

      A lot of the reaction to Len Brown’s rail plans have been along the lines of “he’s dreaming” or “fun ideas but impossible to fund”. I think the point of this post is to highlight just how much of the country’s transport spend needs to be in Auckland. The next battle is to ensure it gets spent on the right projects.

      Both battles are critical to win if Auckland is to get funding for the projects it will need. The money is there, we just spend it in the wrong parts of the country and/or on the wrong stuff. Fix that and $5 billion over 15 years on three big rail projects is highly realistic and achievable.

      1. One thing that needs to happen is someone to nail Joyce down on whether Puhoi-Wellsford is an Auckland project or an inter-regional project. If the former, we ought to get a say in whether or not we think it’s important. If the latter, the government’s only “spending” $3.5b on Auckland transport and the vast majority of that on projects committed to under Labour. Right now he’s got his cake and he’s eating it, thanks in part to the ineptness of the Opposition transport spokesmen.

  10. This is a bit more complicated than one might think at first glance.

    [1] The costs of maintaining a road network are basically a function of its length. So, while you might spend more on maintenance in urban than in rural areas, the cost per vehicle and probably per person, is a lot less. So I concur with Obi’s comments above, about the provision of infrastructure in urban areas – it applies to more than transport – including his observations on the UK as a whole.

    [2] On top of that, the current financial assistance system is based on the relationship between roads programme and rateable base. This means that rural authorities with expensive road programme relative to their ability-to-pay receive much more in assistance for maintenance (via higher subsidy rates) than urban authorities do.

    [3] As for trucks: road maintenance costs are also affected by the number of trucks, but the costs they impose on the road system are captured reasonably effectively via road user charges. That’s as a whole; trucks using lightly-built rural roads create much higher costs per movement than trucks using urban roads, where the pavement is of sufficient strength to cope with them. This does make a difference to rural authorities’ roads programmes.

    [4] Capital work spending is more ‘fairly’ allocated, as it is based (very roughly) on traffic volumes relative to the cost of the work, but maintaining the existing road network is more than half the costs of the road system as a whole.

    [5] In rural areas, the ‘social’ or subsidised component of the land transport network will involve roads. In urban areas it will involve public passenger transport, of all forms. On that basis, we do have some balance.

  11. The work done in the 1990s on commercialising roads indicated Canterbury was a bigger loser on a revenue vs. expenditure basis than Auckland. Why? Because it didn’t have the demands for new capacity (so capex was low) and its road maintenance costs were particularly low because flat roads with easy access to aggregate meant councils and NZTA face some of the lowest costs per km. Canterbury also has had few accident blackspots, so generally speaking there were not many high value projects, but the roads generated a lot of revenue. The flipside of this is the likes of Northland and the West Coast with lower volumes of traffic, but very expensive networks to maintain (and plenty of safety issues to address).

    It is the inevitability of having nationally set road use taxes. RUC in its present form cannot vary by location, and fuel tax could only do so very bluntly. Until there is a shift to direct charging, you can’t address this issue. The debates about the size of regional road companies to ensure viability were extensive. For example, one suggestion was that there be a regional road company for both Auckland and Northland, in order to save Northland from having punitively high road charges (and a single road company for the South Island effectively allowing Canterbury to cross subsidise the expensive West Coast and Southland). Of course, a reasonable argument about charging for lightly used access roads in rural areas is that there ought to be access charges paid by the properties they service (given the property value is linked to having access). Rates are a blunt way of addressing this.

    For those in Auckland, the opportunity exists to price congestion, which generates revenue that can offset charging in other areas (but also provide revenue to engage in continuous enhancement of a complex network with dynamic usage patterns, and more importantly a return on capital that may not necessarily be reinvested in road capital).

    1. National won’t let Auckland have any kind of regional funding mechanism, though. They abolished the only one we’ve had within weeks of taking over Treasury benches. So until we get a new government, Auckland’s pretty much screwed.

  12. @Obi: I think (as the recent elections showed) that the parts of Auckland with a big and rapidly growing population (i.e., the South, the West, and the Isthmus) are actually naturally liberal. They are all either safe Labour seats or marginal Labour/National seats.

    The North Shore, Franklin, Rodney and the Eastern Bays are very blue. But, there are not as many people in these areas as there are in the South, West and Central.

  13. Yes Lucy and I’m picking the next election will show this up even more: Urban NZ will go back more consistently Red or Red/Green and all the bits in between, ie the big much emptier areas will remain staunchly Blue.

    And this is a problem for those of who realise that these two types of places require different solutions in order flourish: No one in Dipton likes the idea of money being spent on trains for AK, especially not the Member himself, even though he is apparently capable of being in two places at once.

  14. Check out this here for a view of Auckland’s voting patterns.
    http://transportnz.110mb.com/08maps/Auckland%20Region.html
    Also have to be-careful with the liberal description, is more an American term that doesn’t make sense here.
    The West and South especially are very left, but I wouldn’t call them liberal. Many people in wealthier areas of town may well be liberal, but they would vote Right because of economic policy, tax etc.

    1. An interesting examination of the whole liberal/conservative issue is found at the Political Compass, which recognises that social and economic values are different planes of measure rather than intrinsically linked. It’ll be interesting to compare its analysis for next year’s election with 2008’s

      It’s always a good insight to see where you fall yourself, and also on Facebook to see where your friends fall. One thing I’ve seen observed is that peoples’ true friends tend to be on the same side of the libertarian/authoritarian divide even if they’re on opposite sides of the left/right (economic values) divide. It’s easier to disagree on economic policy than social policy, it seems.

      And for a laugh, check out the 2008 US presidential elections analysis of where candidates fall. The original chart shows just how little real choice they have, with serious candidates all being varying shades of economically-conservative authoritarian.

  15. Jarbury, A more appropriate comparison would have been to use the population growth estimates from the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy.

    Table 1: Greater Christchurch Area
    Population, Household and Labour Force
    Projections, 2006-2041.
    Source: Produced by Statistics New
    Zealand in September and October 2006
    using the assumptions specified by the
    Strategy Project Team.
    2006 2026 2006-2026 Increase % Increase 2041 2026-2041 Increase % Increase
    Population1 413,500 501,300 +87,800 +21% 548,520 +47,220 +9%
    Households2 164,100 212,900 +48,800 +30% 238,910 +26,000 +12%
    Labour Force3 221,900 260,400 + 38,500 269,400 + 9,000 + 3%

    Unfortunately none of the strategy documents identify how much of Canterbury’s NLTP share belongs to Christchurch although it is probably 80% of the revenue contribution, 99% of the PT funding, less than a quarter of the maintenance funding and, judging from the 10 year NZTA program, 90% of the construction funding.

  16. Those figures still look pretty tiny compared to Auckland’s population growth. By 2041 Auckland’s population is projected to be well over 2 million, meaning an increase between now and then of far more than Christchurch’s entire population in 2041.

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