Recently I was involved in a project undertaken by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, studying examples of amalgamations and other forms of council consolidation across Australia and New Zealand. The largest amalgamation we looked had around 320,000 people and the council concerned was among the six or eight largest councils in Australia. This is not the largest recent amalgamation, however; last year’s merger to form Auckland Council has resulted in a council with a population over 1.4 million, making it the largest in Australasia.
However, before the New Zealanders start to look at the record books (and leaving aside for a moment the question of whether amalgamations are a good thing or not), even the Auckland amalgamation is dwarfed by media reports of plans in southern China to create the world’s biggest mega-city with a population of 42 million by amalgamating nine existing municipalities. These include Guangzhou, which already has a population of around 25 million and is currently the world’s second-largest city.
Even in area the new city will be vast, at over 41,400 square kilometres. This is an area described in the online articles as “twice the size of Wales” – or to put it in Antipodean terms, 60% of the size of Tasmania. This is China’s manufacturing heartland, comprising almost 10% of the Chinese economy.
The proposal seems to be aimed at standardising a range of services such as public transport and health care which are offered at the municipal level in China, making it easier for citizens of each of the existing cities to access services across an area where huge population growth is rendering existing boundaries largely meaningless. It is also intended to give the region an advantage over competing urban areas around Beijing and Shanghai.
The merger will be supported by around 150 major infrastructure projects which will integrate and expand the existing transport, energy, water and telecommunications systems. These plans include 29 rail lines including an express line to Hong Kong. The total cost is around $196 billion.
Just how these projects will be financed is unclear and perhaps not surprisingly there is little news of any opposition to the amalgamation in the Western media, but at least it is refreshing that council amalgamation is seen in China as a basis for additional investment on a vast scale – and not just an excuse for governments to save money!