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.