On TV3’s The Vote recently, Auckland thespian Oliver Driver claimed his beloved city was now truly “world class”. He then yelped the evidence: “Beyoncé is coming for a concert! So it must be world class to attract her.”
I’ve been thinking about his comments since. It’s true Auckland is New Zealand’s only city of real scale and size. More than 1.4 million New Zealanders call Auckland home. It grew six times faster than any other region last year. It was responsible for 75 percent of New Zealand’s economic growth in 2012. Mayor Len Brown says the optimal size of Auckland is 2.5 million people – and that’s likely to happen within 30 years.
But can Auckland really be called world class? Not yet. No way. It might get there by 2030, but it has some serious to work to do. To be ‘world class’ as a city you have to be able to house your population and move them around it efficiently. Right now, Auckland can’t do either. Auckland needs to consent and build 13,000 houses a year. Last year it built 4,000.
Brown is promising to fix this, but until he addresses supply, prices will further skyrocket. The average house price in Auckland is now $660,000. To find anything under $450,000, you have to head 45 minutes out to South Auckland. Even that makes Wellington look affordable, with its value-for-money houses.
And the Auckland transport and roading situation is dire, if not farcical. The planned central rail loop at $2.8 billion will move people out of the CBD to the edge of town quickly. Great. But it’s not a solution on its own and it’s 15 years away at least.
A second harbour crossing is vital, but it’s 20 years away at the earliest. Until this is built, Auckland can’t be considered world class. The single narrow bridge crossing is hopeless and it’s holding the city back. The buses don’t take you where you need to go, and the trains are bloody expensive. Sometimes it’s cheaper to take your car! Auckland certainly isn’t world class – it’s actually suffocating.
Two-thirds of migrants to New Zealand opt to stay in Auckland. In my opinion it’s time to encourage them to the regions. We can’t let Auckland boom and the regions die. It’s in no one’s interest. Those immigrants with business ideas who are happy to move outside Auckland should be at the top of the queue. This needs a change in government policy. Until all this happens, Auckland falls short.
The city is a big mess. It hasn’t been planned well. And only now are civic leaders coming up with a decent plan. Auckland makes Wellington look compact and workable.
Sure, Wellington isn’t a large city like Auckland, but it has a vibrant centre, a public transport system that works and housing that’s relatively affordable.
Auckland needs a major heart operation. It’s on the waiting list. It will happen. But Wellington is nowhere near the hospital. It’s certainly not dying, and you had the pleasure of missing Beyoncé, too.