The Metropolitan Auckland Project: a step-change in governance and regional economic development in a city-region

Wilson, David Ashley
Waring, Marilyn Joy
Dalziel, Paul
McDermott, Philip
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Internationally there has been considerable interest in how the governance structures of large cities can be designed to support economic development. The concurrent forces of globalisation and urbanisation have forced governments to consider the management, efficiency, competitiveness and sustainability of their large cities. Business leadership groups, concerned with attracting talent and investment to remain competitive, add pressure to include wider knowledge and experience in the governance of cities.

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, but it was considered to be under-performing economically in 2000. In 1999, a new Labour-led government initiated a series of regional development policies that were a marked departure from the previous neo-liberal period of 1984-1999. Between 2000 and 2010 a series of initiatives were undertaken to improve Auckland’s economic performance. One of these initiatives was the Metropolitan Auckland Project.

This thesis had two main aims: (1) to explore the process and outcomes of the Metropolitan Auckland Project, and (2) to gain a greater understanding of metropolitan governance and economic development in city-regions. Two philosophical approaches, systems thinking and pragmatism, were used in the construction of the research. Systems thinking provided an approach to linking phenomena and identifying layers of analysis to track long-run effects. A pragmatist approach meant that methodology and methods were constructed to answer three research questions: (1) is it possible to design an intervention to act as a catalyst for a step-change in the economic development of a city-region? (2) What roles do governance, institutions, partnerships and leaders play in achieving a step-change in the economic development of a city-region? (3) What factors influence a step-change and create long-run impacts in the economic development of a city-region?

Two methodologies and four methods were employed. A single-case embedded case study and realistic impact evaluation were used to gain an in-depth understanding of the context, processes, mechanisms and outcomes of the project. Methods for data collection were, a literature review conducted in two related domains - new regionalism and endogenous regional economic development, documentary analysis, participant research and 20 semi-structured key stakeholder interviews.

It was found that the Metropolitan Auckland Project was the catalyst for a step-change in governance and regional economic development in Auckland. This included a stronger focus on city-regional economic development governance, policy and practice, changed perceptions about the role of Auckland in the national economy, and new governance, institutional and planning arrangements resulting in a single metropolitan authority created in 2010. However, behavioural changes in new institutional arrangements did not necessarily follow, and greater subsidiarity and partnership with central government in addressing key development issues were not markedly improved.

It was also found that it is possible to design high-level interventions to enhance economic development in city-regions but that this takes careful consideration of the context for development, the partnerships formed, the institutions involved or created, the expertise required, the buy-in required, and the mechanisms employed. Seven factors that contributed to a step-change in the governance and economic development of Auckland were found to be relevant to other city-regions facing similar challenges.

Auckland , Realistic impact evaluation , City-region , Regional economic development , Metropolitan governance
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