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Eden Park tipped as Cabinet's cup choice
Monday November 27, 2006
By Bernard Orsman and Paula Oliver

Eden Park is shaping up as the major venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup as the Cabinet today considers the mixed messages from Auckland about a national stadium on the waterfront.

Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard has refused to say what, if anything, he will do to revive his sinking dream of a waterfront site.

One Beehive source said the thinking in Government circles was "Eden Park is the most likely option".

A second said the waterfront would be difficult to push through after the "overwhelming rejection by the Auckland Regional Council".

The ARC voted unanimously on Friday for Eden Park. On Thursday, the Auckland City Council voted 12-8 for the waterfront but broke ranks with the Government over the site. A Herald-DigiPoll survey and unofficial polls also came out anti-waterfront.

One source said it was not clear if Mr Mallard would mount a rearguard action. It has been suggested he could ask for more time to explore the waterfront and/or keep both stadiums on the go.

ARC chairman Mike Lee last night said he suspected the waterfront stadium would fade away, "probably quicker than we think".

Mr Lee, whose council was concerned about the "significant adverse effect" a waterfront site would have on the ARC-owned Ports of Auckland operations, said the Government asked a tough question and got a direct answer from his council.

Eden Park "was the assumed location for the Rugby World Cup when the bid was made. In terms of time, cost and all the rest of it, it is the only feasible option."

Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard, one of the loudest voices for the waterfront, said his view had not changed but he noticeably lowered his tone on the $500 million-plus option, saying, "We just have to wait and see which way the wind blows."

He said there were "serious funding issues" for Auckland City ratepayers if the $385 million upgrade of Eden Park got the go-ahead. The original proposal was for $320 million.

"We haven't got our heads around the implications of $385 million. We know we have been asked for a substantial contribution. We know other councils have been asked for a substantial contribution but haven't made any provision in their 10-year plans."

Auckland City has $100 million set aside in its 10-year plan for facilities like a stadium or convention centre.

"Ratepayers would be concerned if Auckland City made too much of a contribution and no other territorial council or the ARC made any contribution at all," Mr Hubbard said.

The Government has always said it would contribute less to Eden Park because, unlike the waterfront, it was a regional, not a national, stadium.

One Beehive source said upgrading Eden Park from 47,500 to 60,000 seats would be a matter for the Eden Park Trust Board and Auckland to sort out in time for 2011, saying there was a "massive [funding] hole".

Apart from the Government's own contribution, it is not clear how much the Government will let Auckland councils raise through bed and airport taxes for Eden Park. The project faces at least a $175 million shortfall once central and local government and related sources are factored in.

Mr Hubbard said the Government had made it plain Eden Park was a regional facility and he believed the ARC had a regional responsibility to help with funding.

Mr Lee reiterated that the ARC's role would be limited to upgrading rail, saying the message from ratepayers was they did not want to pay for a stadium.