Recently Metro Magazine published an interesting, albeit it somewhat messy piece by former Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey asking if Auckland should become a city-state. The basis for it is similar to many of the conversations we’ve had, that Auckland’s population, growth and economy are almost completely different to what’s found elsewhere in New Zealand. As such, it requires completely different thinking. Yet because Auckland is so different, many from outside the city, including those in government agencies, simply struggle to understand the magnitude of it.
Its population and economy are simply growing faster than the rest of New Zealand’s, and indications are that growth is accelerating. Since 2011, according to the Auckland Growth Monitor published by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), “Auckland’s GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 3.4 per cent, and between 2015 and 2016 grew by 3.9 per cent”. In the rest of New Zealand GDP grew at a steady 2.5 per cent, rising only to 2.7 per cent in 2015 and 2016.
Auckland is forecast to have two million residents by 2033, and by 2045 it will be home to 40 per cent of the national population. We are set apart, and probably have been since Hobson anchored in the Waitemata in 1840. It just took a century to become evident.
Auckland occupies less than two per cent of New Zealand’s landmass, but 34 per cent of the population already live here. The region takes half of all migrants to New Zealand, and has accommodated a population the size of Wellington in just the past decade, 45,000 people in 2016 alone. Some 39 per cent of Aucklanders were born overseas (foreign-born citizens make up only 18 per cent of the rest of New Zealand), making the city the fourth most ethnically diverse in the world. Aucklanders are also in general slightly younger, better educated and higher paid than other New Zealanders.
Along with an increasing percentage of the national population, Auckland has a greater proportion of working-age adults than the national average.
Over a third of New Zealand businesses, and two-thirds of the nation’s top 200 technology firms, are based in Auckland. More than 100 multinational companies have their Asia-Pacific headquarters here. The region already generates 37 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The trends outlined above would indicate this is likely to increase.
He even references an article here on the blog from Peter in 2015 that looked at how much Auckland gets as a share of government funding. That post highlighted that overall, Auckland gets just 31% of government funding, noting:
From Auckland’s perspective, the nation, already taking more from us than we get from them, will take more and more in the future. At the same time, we will become more despised and distrusted, and Wellington bureaucracy will increasingly seek to constrain us even though we hold all the real power.
Never mind how the Zealots view Auckland. It’s more important that Auckland today sees itself as monolithic and bound by traffic and council, both of which seem to spend too much time getting nowhere fast. It needs to free itself and start seriously becoming a global player.
The piece frequently references the late Owen McShane a lot which is interesting as many of his ideas were to create the antithesis of a modern city. For those that don’t know the name, he was an outspoken figure about housing and transport, wanting to see Auckland sprawl in every direction, backed up by more and more motorways.
Over the years we’ve seen the impacts of the city and government butting heads, primarily on transport and housing. One of my observations over the years was that even National more often than not would eventually come around to agree to Auckland’s view on issues. Whether it be on the Unitary Plan and the need for density, or on transport with projects like the City Rail Link and ATAP, Auckland was making the right calls sooner. How much sooner would the City Rail Link and now Light Rail, have been started if we hadn’t had to endure years of delays. That council and government are currently in strong alignment doesn’t mean the position will always stay that way.
It’s not entirely clear if Harvey is suggesting that Auckland become its own nation, like Singapore, or just have more autonomy than it does currently. Personally, I’m not convinced of the case for the former. For one thing, it would likely mean the city needing to replicate most, if not all of the government institutions. That would be neither a quick, easy or cheap job. However, having more autonomy in some policy areas, backed up by some guaranteed funding could allow for critical projects to get over the line and sooner. In some ways we’re heading a little down that path already with the regional fuel tax.
What do you think, should we consider making Auckland a city-state, should the city get more autonomy, or should we just leave things as they are?