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Go back to basics at Eden Park
Tuesday November 28, 2006

Eden Park's governors had a curious way of justifying a massively more expensive plan to upgrade their stadium for rugby's 2011 World Cup. It had been decided, said Rob Fisher, the development committee chairman, that the original $150 million proposal, part of the parcel that won this country the hosting rights, would be "money down the drain". The largely temporary improvements would produce no benefits beyond the playing of the World Cup final. Thus, Eden Park had come up with a $385 million permanent "legacy" option that would deliver a much better result for the local community and spectators.

That reasoning deserves much greater scrutiny now that the Government has elected to back the redevelopment of Eden Park. The major outstanding decision now is the shape, and cost, of that process. Whether, in fact, the extravagant "legacy" plan is a viable proposition, given Eden Park's many shortcomings.

The short answer is no. Mr Fisher was right on just one thing. The "legacy" plan would be better for spectators. But Eden Park's neighbours seemed less than enthused when it was unveiled on June 30, saying the height of the proposed new stands would produce greater shadowing than they had been led to believe. They could also be counted on to be less than excited by the prospect of increased capacity and greater use of the stadium.

Worse still, Eden Park's logic was seriously askew. It is, in fact, the "legacy" option that represents money down the drain, not the original, less grandiose plan. Whatever the park's rich sporting history, it will always be a seriously limited venue. There are problems of access, it is well removed from Auckland's entertainment hub (one of the major attractions of the thwarted waterfront site), and it will always be blighted by the noise constraints of its suburban location. It would be a waste to spend more money on Eden Park than is necessary to satisfactorily host the World Cup.

Reinforcing this conclusion are the breathtaking funding assumptions that underpin the "legacy" option. Among other things, it envisages a ratepayer contribution of $50 million from Auckland City, and $175 million from the Government. The Government, however, has given no assurance that it will provide more than $20 million. It has said that it regards Eden Park as a "regional" edifice, as opposed to the national stadium which it favoured for the waterfront. That may now change, but the Government would still be loath to introduce an unpopular bed or airport tax for an upgrade that was unnecessarily lavish. The Auckland City Council has indicated a willingness to contribute, but its residents, having suffered a hefty rates rise, are in no mood to see huge sums of money spent on Eden Park. The Auckland Regional Council, for its part, wants nothing to do with funding the redevelopment.

All this points in one direction - the $150 million upgrade, which proved acceptable to the International Rugby Board when it awarded New Zealand the World Cup hosting rights. The plan then was for the Government's contribution and $10 million from the rugby union to be used for temporary seating to meet the IRB's capacity requirements. Responsibility for funding permanent upgrades would lie with the Eden Park Trust Board.

That satisfied the game's administrators a year ago. It is no less satisfactory now. Proceeding with the "legacy" option would be a case of throwing good money after bad, all for no long-term gain. That money should be saved for a national stadium - wherever and whenever it is finally built.