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Waterfront Stadium 'dead and buried'
Sunday November 26, 2006
By Jared Savage

Senior Government Ministers had cold feet about a national stadium on Auckland's waterfront even before the project was virtually sunk by the Auckland Regional Council.

The Government was tightlipped over the prospects of a waterfront site yesterday but sources say that Cabinet members voiced doubts before the ARC voted 12-0 in favour of a revamped Eden Park on Friday.

The Herald on Sunday understands a cost estimate review carried out for Trevor Mallard last week put the cost at $800 million - $300m more than the Government had been touting.

Although the Government is now leaning towards Eden Park because a harbour-side arena is too risky, there are still concerns over Auckland's traditional home of rugby.

Costs have escalated from $160m to $320m. The Government is worried about investing $100m in a park controlled by a private trust board.

The Government could forge ahead with a waterfront stadium against the wishes of the ARC and most public opinion polls, but riding rough-shod over legislation was considered unlikely. Instead, North Harbour Stadium could be nominated as a surprise contender for the Rugby World Cup final if the Government is unhappy with Eden Park.

Ministers were ducking for cover yesterday with spokesmen for Prime Minister Helen Clark and Dr Michael Cullen saying that no comment would be made until Cabinet met tomorrow.

But the two leaders of the local bodies which voted differently on the waterfront stadium were not afraid of voicing their opinions.

Disappointed that the ARC had voted against the waterfront option, Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard was still hopeful of the Government's support despite the ARC's disapproval.

"I'm trying not to read the tea leaves. A door is never closed until it's closed."

However, he criticised the ARC.

"It's a question of whether you want happy containers on the waterfront, or happy people. The ARC wanted happy containers, I wanted happy people."

Mike Lee, chair of the ARC which voted unanimously 12-0 in favour of Eden Park, was equally disappointed with the city council.

Auckland City voted 12-8 for the waterfront but only if it was moved east towards the Bledisloe Wharf, an option which the government had already discarded.

"I think they let themselves down. Trevor Mallard asked a straight question and they came back with some sort of tricky fudged answer.

"The Government may not have liked our answer but at least they got one."

Surprised that the regional council was unanimous in its decision, Lee said the government would not legislate to override the ARC decision.

"These issues never end with a bang, they fade away. This will go to Cabinet but I suspect they will turn their attention to Eden Park," Lee said.

"I believe the waterfront option is dead and buried."

After speaking with Mallard on Friday night, Lee said that the Minister was philosophical about the regional council's decision. "He had worked very hard promoting it, he didn't back away when the going got tough, and he had the best intentions of Auckland at heart."

Mallard has refused to comment, other than to say Auckland's local body politicians had made "inconsistent decisions" and he would report to Cabinet tomorrow.

Unlikely allies Rodney Hide and Keith Locke joined forces to rally for the derelict Carlaw Park. Hide said the waterfront was "dead in the water".

"Kicking the issue to Cabinet is Mallard's way of blaming the team, instead of taking responsibility for the role he's played in the fiasco. The Government was wrong to think that it could get its way by holding a gun to Auckland's head."

Eden Park Trust Board has expressed delight in the ARC decision but declined to comment further until a decision is made.

Auckland University constitutional law expert Bill Hodge has said a Government decision to ram through a waterfront stadium would damage the constitutional fabric of New Zealand.