Simon Wilson has an excellent article in “The Spinoff” about Auckland’s growth challenges and the apparent lack of interest from Central Government in talking about or tackling these major issues. Wilson really highlights that many of the issues facing Auckland have reached crisis point over the past couple of years:
Because let’s call it straight: this city is on the edge of crisis.
We all know this. In transport, housing, health, education, crime, the drains when it rains – wherever you look – supply of services has been outstripped by demand, costs have risen beyond the reach of ordinary citizens and existing systems are failing to cope with their workloads. It’s as true for stormwater as it is for school counselling; congestion on the roads mirrors congestion in the health services dealing with diabetes.
A city in crisis is a city that can’t deliver to its potential – for its own citizens or for the country.
The core of all these issues is that investment in Auckland just hasn’t been keeping up with growth. After reaching 1.5 million in late 2013, Auckland’s population has already blown past 1.6 million in the first half of last year and is now on course to reach 1.7 million by the middle of next year according to Stats NZ’s latest projections. The annual growth has increased massively from 15,000-20,000 from 2006 to 2013, tripling to nearly 45,000 in each of the past couple of years – with this year potentially being highest of all assuming record net migration statistics flow through into our growth levels. The graph below compares Auckland’s annual growth with other major regions over the past decade:
Wilson’s article calls out the elephant in the room – that the government really doesn’t have a plan for Auckland.
What do we need? It’s great the government has spending plans for programmes that will benefit Auckland. But we need more than that. We need long-term planning, not just short-term crisis management. Not “Let’s put another motorway lane there” but “How do we restructure the transport systems of the city?” Not “Let’s give that kid a scholarship” but “How do get great teachers into all the schools so obviously most in need of them?”
And we need a special focus. From central and local government, the private sector and NGOs, and from citizens, we need creative, inclusive, new ideas. We could think of it like this: Auckland is a project.
Funnily enough when the government really knuckled down to work with the Council on the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, they all came up with a reasonably decent plan. Of course it needs funding and needs to be more aspirational, but at least there’s a coherent and broadly agreed plan. Where’s something similar for dealing with Auckland’s housing crisis? Auckland’s environmental challenges? Growing inequality between different parts of the city? An economy that still underperforms compared to its potential?
Wilson concludes by outlining what I think is a really good “ten point plan” that makes a good start on what should form the basis of an “Auckland policy” for any party going into the election:
- Māori students at kura kaupapa have achieved some remarkable improvements, and students at most Catholic schools, especially in the lower deciles, also do remarkably well. Why? What are the things these schools do right that can be applied in other lower decile schools and right across the state school system?
- We’ve known for a long time that primary health care and public health are the keys to addressing most of the illnesses people turn up to hospital with. So how do we make primary health care more effective?
- It used to be said – by members of the current cabinet – that Aucklanders will never get out of their cars. We now know from passenger numbers on the electric trains and Northern Busway that this is simply not true. Yet transport planning is still based on building more roads. Let’s put the focus squarely on public transport, especially rail (trams and trains), and cycling and walking. Not because everyone has to stop driving, but because cities geared to PT have less congestion on the roads than cities geared for cars. Strange, but true.
- There’s a mayoral taskforce that has no central political input; there are skilled private sector advocates like Leonie Freeman whose services are somehow not required. Let’s take the current attempts to coordinate an approach to building affordable housing and social housing, and supercharge them. Everybody on board.
- The uncomfortable truth: if dairy and bottle store owners were mainly Pakeha there is no way we would put up with their being attacked so often. Yes, we need all the social programmes we can get to steer at-risk kids away from crime, and we also need more police in the community engaged in prevention, and we need a priority alert system to deal with dairy robberies when they occur. Let’s make the armed robbery of dairies a crime that’s very hard to get away with.
- When it rains hard in Auckland – which is often, especially in autumn and spring – the stormwater drains can’t cope. The cost is measured in the misery of people repeatedly flooded out of their homes and workplaces; it’s also measured in the pollution of our waterways. Let’s have Watercare come out from whichever underground bunker it’s hiding in and front-foot a programme to get the drains working properly.
- In the first city of Māoridom, Māori are at the bottom of almost all the statistics for achievement and the top for the statistics of risk. Māori are not institutionally celebrated as they should be – there’s no cultural centre on the waterfront, for example – and not properly represented on council either. Why? Because not enough of us understand or value our unique bicultural character? How about a citywide programme to teach te reo in schools? With outreach for parents too?
- At this point, it doesn’t matter if you think we should have 10 million people here or slam the doors entirely and not let another person in. The fact is, 90,000 immigrants arrived in the country last year and half of them settled in Auckland, but nobody planned for that to happen. Let’s have the public debate, and the political policies on the table, and make decisions as a community.
- Auckland the super-city has achieved a lot of things, but it costs more than it was supposed to, it’s not allowed to run enough of its own affairs and the relationship of council to the “council-controlled” organisations is way less functional than it should be. Seven years into the new city governance setup, it’s time for a review.
- Back to the start. Auckland champions please. Forward-looking, inclusive, engaged. Not afraid to say, Auckland is important, here’s why, and here’s how we’re going to help it function well for the good of the entire country.
At the moment it seems like much of the response to these challenges from political parties is to battle over who can make the most outrageous statements over cutting immigration. This isn’t going to cut it and may well undermine the steps Auckland needs to take. Well supported by investment, growth is good for us – it makes Auckland more productive, more interesting, more diverse and more vibrant. We also need many more people to build the 15,000 houses a year Auckland desperately needs at the moment.
What we really need is for the parties to move beyond their tendencies (either implicit or explicit) towards xenophobia and for them to actually take the challenges and opportunities of Auckland’s growth seriously. Perhaps they need to be reminded that Auckland makes up a third of the votes.