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Model T or Rolls-Royce - what is the best stadium option?
Brian Rudman
Monday November 27, 2006

Sport Minister Trevor Mallard and Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard can stumble about in grief and frustration muttering that the waterfront stadium is not dead, but it is.

And if the Labour leadership wants to retrieve any credibility for being in touch with its Auckland heartland, then today's Cabinet meeting should bury Mallard's folly and move on.

This month, Aucklanders were given an impossibly short two weeks to choose between two sites for a new sports stadium, Eden Park or astride Marsden and Captain Cook wharves. We were assured the decision was ours, although the choice was skewed in favour of the waterfront option by the promise of more money if we went with Mr Mallard's seaside preference.

Auckland city and regional councillors have now voted and not one voted in favour of the Mallard option. Regional councillors were unanimously against a stadium anywhere on the waterfront as were eight city councillors. The other 12 city councillors voted for a site "substantially eastward of the Government's proposed location".

As regional councillor David Hay said of his former city council colleagues the next morning: "I learnt at university if you don't answer the question, you don't get a mark." He was right.

The city councillors ignored Mr Mallard's earlier warnings that a stadium to the east was economically impossible and voted for it anyway.

Electorally, Labour would be wise not to come out of today's Cabinet meeting slagging off Aucklanders. In the ridiculously short time given us, we vigorously debated whether we wanted this giant carbuncle at our front door and said no thanks.

We decided the hidden costs, the urban design issues, the suspension of various acts of Parliament, the lack of proper consultation were all too high a price to pay. But we did play the Government's game, as requested.

Indeed Prime Minister Helen Clark should thank us for participating and apologise for not providing time to consider the choice in more depth.

The issue is, do we go with Eden Park and, if so, the Model T version or the Rolls-Royce? Or do we consider increasing the capacity of a stadium like North Harbour or Mt Smart? And before anyone goes on about Mt Smart being hard to access, it was a breath of reality to read that nearly 8000 of the 40,000 fans at Friday's U2 concert travelled to Mt Smart by train. And without a penny being spent on infrastructural upgrades.

If it is to be Eden Park, the first issue is funding. Mr Mallard tried to bully us into his choice, by saying Government would treat the waterfront option as a national stadium but Eden Park only as a "regional" facility and fund accordingly.

On Friday, the ARC responded with the unanimous advice to Government that the ARC believes that any alternative to the waterfront stadium should be a national stadium and should be funded for capital and operating costs, without reliance on Auckland regional council ratepayers.

Of the seven territorial councils, only Auckland City has expressed any willingness to dip into its ratepayers' pockets for either Eden Park or the waterfront. The Government's proposed visitor bed and/or airport tax is supposedly for Eden Park as well as the waterfront but that was for the Rolls-Royce, $385 million plus $63 million for rail bridges, compensation to Auckland cricket etc, model.

But if, as many have argued, Eden Park, because of its location within residential Mt Eden, will never be an optimum site for a multi-purpose stadium, should we be wasting our money building a top shelf model there that will be shackled by noise limits and other restrictions? Perhaps its time to revive the Model T proposal advanced just 18 months ago by none other than NZ Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs.

In announcing, on May 11 last year, the bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, he said the proposal's baseline financial model depended on increasing Eden Park's seating capacity from 47,500 to 55,000.

He said that would be achieved through temporary seating above the western stand, similar to the wing structures used in Australia during the Olympics and the last rugby world cup.

Mr Hobbs said it would cost about $20 million and would be recovered through ticket prices. It was a brilliant idea. But within 18 months, that $20 million has become the petty cash wasted on consultants, lawyers and PR flacks promoting a Rolls-Royce.

It's time for a reality check.