|Waterfront stadium sinking fast
|Saturday November 25, 2006
By Mathew Dearnaley and Anne Beston
Fierce opposition from the Auckland Regional Council is killing off the Government's dream of a waterfront stadium.
A $500 million-plus "national stadium" for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and beyond has been Sport Minister Trevor Mallard's preference ahead of a revamped Eden Park.
But a Beehive source told the Weekend Herald that the Government was now leaning towards Eden Park, Auckland's traditional home of rugby.
It is understood it is realising that there are too many risks in a harbour-side arena.
Mr Mallard dashed away from reporters outside the Ministry of Economic Development's Auckland offices yesterday after the regional council voted 12-0 for a redeveloped Eden Park rather than a waterfront plan it sees as fraught with economic and environmental risks.
The minister said only that he had received recommendations from the regional body and the Auckland City Council, which were "not consistent" and which he intended to refer to the Cabinet on Monday.
The city council voted on Thursday for a waterfront stadium, but with several conditions.
"I am not going to make further comment until then," Mr Mallard said, before being driven off in a Crown car.
His play for extra time was in contrast to a two-week deadline of midday yesterday that he had set the councils to choose between the two sites.
But it is understood from the Beehive source that the unanimous regional council vote has heightened the Government's awareness that the waterfront proposal is becoming too much of a liability.
Neither can it rely on unconditional support from the city council, which voted 13-7 for a waterfront stadium, but only if it could be built "substantially" east of the Government's preferred site straddling Captain Cook and Marsden wharves.
Its reason was to get the 37m structure as far away as possible from the harbour view of the heritage Britomart precinct.
But the suggestion worried regional councillors already concerned about disruption to the ARC- owned port company's Bledisloe container terminal.
Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard yesterday refused to concede defeat for the waterfront option, which he says will bring economic transformation to the downtown area.
"The door is very definitely half-open."
The city would point out to Mr Mallard that it had received no evidence of potential economic harm to Ports of Auckland.
But regional council chairman Mike Lee said his members' concerns were only too real.
He said what little was known about the Government's proposal indicated that the cost of compensating the port company for disrupted operations was "round about the $200 million and rising mark".
Regional councillors said the jobs of 173,000 Aucklanders depended on the port and its $21 billion of annual business.
The chairman of the council's strategic policy committee, Paul Walbran, said the port was budgeted to contribute $1 billion to ARC spending in the next 10 years to supplement ratepayer contributions, but disruption to the port could take $165 million from that sum.
Mr Hubbard, who attended the three-hour regional council meeting, said after it that Auckland City ratepayers could face a heavy financial burden for upgrading Eden Park.
The regional council had decided it did not want the Government to rely on its ratepayers to help in redeveloping and running Eden Park.
But Mr Lee said the regional council resolution included a call for any alternative to the waterfront option to be regarded as a national stadium.
Mr Lee praised Mr Mallard for offering an alternative to Eden Park, but said the regional council had risen to his challenge of expressing a clear-cut preference, in contrast to the city council's conditional support of a waterfront stadium, which he said amounted to an evasion of the minister's question.