Auckland already ranks as the world's tenth best place to live according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Liveability Index.
John Bridgman, managing director of Aecom New Zealand, a professional technical services firm, says with the right infrastructure in place, Auckland could go further up the list.
He says that's a challenge worth meeting because the top ranked cities attract high quality investment, immigration and interests in the products they sell. Together these will boost the city's economy and create more jobs.
The EIU's index covers 140 cities around the world and ranks them based on the quality of life. Melbourne tops the list with Vienna in second place. Australia has four of the top 10: Sydney and Adelaide also feature, while Perth sits at nine, one place ahead of Auckland.
To create the index, the EIU looked at 30 factors, including things like stability, healthcare, culture, environment, educational resources and infrastructure. These are crunched down to a single score out of 100: the ideal. Auckland's score is 95.7.
Bridgman says Auckland ranks well in each individual department, but is weakest in infrastructure, scoring 92.9. The Australian cities are on 100. He says if the city could lift its infrastructure ranking to the Australian level it would move five or so places up the table pushing Auckland well ahead of Perth.
When measuring infrastructure, the EIU scores cities on the quality of their road, public transport and telecommunications networks along with the international links. It also looks at the availability of good quality housing, energy and water provisioning.
Bridgman says Auckland has the ability to improve most of these areas. "The things that will shift that dial are the City Rail Link, freight transport and resilience in our water and electricity supply. Also housing affordability. These are all things people are trying to address".
He says though others might see infrastructure as Auckland's vulnerability, it is an opportunity.
"The Super City has done some great things. It's allowed us to get some forward momentum on these areas.
"The fear is that we think we've solved it: putting in the Western Ring Rd means we've fixed things, whereas we need to continue the momentum."
Continuing the momentum is partly about being able to provide funding and partly about our ability to allow projects to get up from a planning perspective.
Economic valueBridgman says being recognised as one of the world's most liveable cities is so economically valuable that we shouldn't let debates about funding and other matters that slow the infrastructure build get in the way of maintaining momentum.
"It's right to have debates about funding, but they need to support the goals rather than becoming the key issue. Debates about resource management and planning are also important but they need to support the major tenet, which is making the city a much better place".
He says the message about the importance of a city's infrastructure in the context of creating a liveable city has yet to resonate with Aucklanders: "Discussion tends to be about how we have a cafe society or how the waterfront is nice".
Building infrastructure makes a city liveable; it also underpins economic development. Bridgman says the Western Ring Rd has already done a lot for development, with more to come when it is completed. He says: "Other projects now need to happen: the East-West Link and Ameti [the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative]. The investments are critical. They have the ability to lift Auckland and national GDP".
FundingWhen it comes to funding, Bridgman says we need to recognise the value the private sector can bring through its investment. He quotes the report back from a recent New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development study tour to Britain which found a much greater acceptance of private sector investment in infrastructure, leading to a far quicker time to market. There's evidence of the same results coming from Australia.
Bridgman says there are ways to get that private investment in infrastructure: PPPs (public private partnerships) like with the Transmission Gully road project in Wellington are one approach.
New Zealand's consultation processes remain a barrier to getting the necessary infrastructure built quickly. Bridgman says here the emphasis is on letting all parts of the community comment on a project and that process tends to shape the end result.
He says overseas the emphasis tends to be more on shortening the process and then finding ways to mitigate the problems.
He would like to see New Zealand move to a model where public debate centres on the overall plan, not project detail.
He says Auckland's infrastructure planning has to align better with central government; this is a matter of leadership on both sides and that is now improving, but there's still scope for better alignment.