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Mallard to seek more time to assess waterfront option
26 November 2006
By Greg Meylan

Don't write off the controversial plan for an Auckland waterfront stadium just yet.

The Sunday Star-Times understands Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard will argue at today's Cabinet meeting for extra time to explore the waterfront option, despite Friday's unanimous "no" from Auckland Regional Council (ARC) on whose land it would be built.

A high-level source said Cabinet will look at three options: initially keeping both stadiums on the go; ditching the waterfront option and upgrading Eden Park; or expanding Christchurch's Jade Stadium to the required 60,000 seats.

The Star-Times understands Mallard wants to keep both Auckland options open, but other Beehive sources say Eden Park is the frontrunner.

The uncertainty won't be welcomed by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), which said yesterday it was disappointed about the continued stalemate over where the 2011 World Cup final would be held.

Speaking from Cardiff, NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs said it was important politicians did not "dither". "We need to move on to the next phase and get on with it."

Hobbs said he had been in touch with the International Rugby Board and officials from Rugby World Cup Ltd who were comfortable with either option.

Economic analysts Covec, who prepared a cost-benefit analysis for the ARC and Auckland City Council (ACC), believe keeping both Auckland options open is a smart move.

Covec director Dr John Small said both options could be kept alive at a cost of $1 million a month. He said this would buy time to make the right decision, and competitiveness might help lower contracting costs.

But Fletcher Building boss Mark Binns, whose company will build whatever option was chosen, said time was running out.

"Keeping them both going for an extended period of time is just too tough on resources, because they are both big projects."

Binns said commitments to materials and machinery for the waterfront would have to be made before Christmas.

The Star-Times understands preliminary orders for some machinery have already been placed for the waterfront site, including a pile driver required to pummel 1900 concrete piles into the seabed.

There has been intense debate and speculation about whether the $500m waterfront stadium would be built in downtown Auckland since Mallard said it was his preference earlier this month.

On November 10 he gave the ARC and ACC a fortnight to decide between upgrading Eden Park or the new waterfront venue. Mallard offered $165m of government money and underwriting for the waterfront option, or a lesser, undecided, amount but no underwriting for the Eden Park upgrade. The city council voted 13 to seven in favour of the waterfront on Thursday, provided it shifted further east. On Friday the regional council, which owns Ports of Auckland, voted unanimously for Eden Park.

Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard, a fierce supporter of the new stadium, on Saturday accused the ARC of putting its financial interests ahead of Aucklanders' desire to open up the waterfront.

"We needed this stadium to be a circuit breaker to get access. Thirty years from now I believe we could still be looking at barbed wire, electric fences, cranes and used cars."

Hubbard said the councils' opposing decisions would reignite debate about the need to amalgamate greater Auckland's councils.

ARC chairman Mike Lee said it had made the right decision because a waterfront stadium would have disrupted the port, which was critical to Auckland's economy.