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City council vote should prevail
Saturday November 25, 2006

There was a certain inevitability about Auckland local bodies' decision-making over the stadium for rugby's 2011 World Cup. Nobody should have been surprised that the city council voted in favour of a new stadium on the waterfront, while the regional council, shortly after, unanimously backed the refurbishment of Eden Park. The two councils came at the issue from entirely different angles and armed with vastly different advice, effectively predetermining their decisions.

An air of predictability also surrounds the probable response of Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard to this schism. He has declined to comment until after Monday's Cabinet meeting. But, much as opponents of the waterfront stadium might like to regard the two councils' votes as of equal significance, Mr Mallard is likely to view the city council's as paramount. Further, given his own preference for the waterfront, he will be inclined to see a final scoreline of 2-1 for that venue, not the 1-1 deadlock proclaimed by Eden Park's supporters.

The Government would have good grounds for giving precedence to the Auckland City Council's verdict. This is its bailiwick. In the end, it is responsible for dictating the whats and wherefores of city development. It is the authority that must seize such opportunities. Indeed, the involvement of the Auckland Regional Council could have been counted superfluous had it not been the owner of the land on which it is planned to build the stadium.

That interest, arising from its ownership of Ports of Auckland, determined, in turn, its opposition to the waterfront plan. The regional council could do little else, given its overarching need to ensure the port's operation and its own income stream are not unduly disrupted. If the port company adopted a slightly more conciliatory attitude in the run-up to the councils' vote, a substantial list of provisos illustrated its many concerns. The regional councillors gave expression to this in their show of unity.

The decisions reached by the city council are, in fact, commendable. In the first instance, it recognised that Auckland City ratepayers should not be left carrying the losses of a waterfront stadium that was underused or ineptly managed. Therefore, its conditions for support include Government assumption of all construction and operating risk.

Additionally, the city councillors want the stadium built "substantially" east of the Government's preferred position. There may be an element of attempted self-preservation in this condition. Some of the councillors, aware that they are swimming against the tide of public opinion, may have been keen to distance themselves from the Government. But, whatever the motivation, they have opted for the ideal site. A stadium 250m farther east would be less intrusive, particularly in terms of blocking views from the Britomart precinct, than the present location across the Captain Cook and Marsden wharves.

The problem, of course, is that Ports of Auckland is adamant a structure farther east would jeopardise too much of its business. That position was presumably reinforced by shipping company Maersk's decision to use Auckland as its operations hub. Nonetheless, the city council's preferred site merits further investigation. If this confirms that the port would, indeed, suffer, the present plan must stand. The stadium should not blight the port company's prospects.

The final piece of the jigsaw would be a design of high quality. The furore over the stadium has merely emphasised its importance. Again, city councillors have acknowledged this. They have shown an appreciation of the exciting possibilities of a waterfront site. Their lead is one the Government should be keen to follow.