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Row over $225m Eden Park shortfall
Tuesday November 28, 2006
By Bernard Orsman and Paula Oliver

A row has erupted over who should pay the $225 million shortfall to prepare Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup after the Government yesterday pulled the rug on special taxes to help fund the project.

As expected, the Cabinet torpedoed Sport Minister Trevor Mallard's dream of a waterfront stadium after the Auckland City and regional councils last week came to different positions and a majority of Aucklanders rejected the site.

The Government has swung behind upgrading Eden Park, subject to resolving design, governance and funding issues. North Harbour Stadium was chosen as a back-up.

The focus now is on paying for the $385 million Eden Park upgrade, particularly after Mr Mallard did a u-turn on introducing bed and departure taxes to take the load off Auckland ratepayers, who are already facing big rates rises.

The minister promised 16 days ago that bed and departure taxes would help to finance either option. Yesterday, he said that was no longer an option for Eden Park because the tourism industry didn't want it.

He hinted that airport and departure taxes could become an alternative funding source as a result of the Government's rates inquiry but that was long after the December 13 deadline to come up with a funding package for Eden Park.

Mr Mallard refused to say how much the Government would contribute to Eden Park but repeated that because it was a regional stadium, as opposed to a "national stadium", it would be less than the $175 million committed to the waterfront.

The Eden Park Trust Board has just $90 million committed to the upgrade and is hoping to get $70 million from the Lottery Grants Board and trust grants.

That leaves a $225 million hole, including $50 million the board believed it had coming from the Auckland City Council.

A confidential paper, dated November 21, shows the council intends to "minimise direct ratepayer contribution" to Eden Park and plans its biggest contribution to be upgrading infrastructure, including a $26 million bridge linking Kingsland to the sportsground.

Mr Mallard and Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard came down hard on the Auckland Regional Council to make a contribution.

ARC chairman Mike Lee, whose council unanimously voted for Eden Park last Friday, has refused point blank to give any money to the facility, saying the ARC's role for the cup is to improve rail services.

Mr Mallard said the ARC had a "moral obligation" to help fund what was a regional stadium and he was waiting to hear "the level of their contribution towards their favoured option".

Mr Hubbard accused the ARC of shirking its regional responsibilities. "What part of the word regional doesn't the ARC understand?

"I believe very strongly that whoever calls the tune should pay the piper. I challenge the ARC to come to the party and pay the piper, having called the tune on Eden Park."

Mr Mallard, who failed in 2003 to build a memorial to Sir Peter Blake on the Auckland waterfront that was dubbed the "glass coffin", put on a brave face about his defeat.

"I'm disappointed. But I think we've had a process which was hurried and it was a chance to have a look at something different that hasn't come off," he said.

Mr Lee said he was not interested in moral lectures from Mr Mallard and "we understood what regionalism was when [Mayor Hubbard] was making cornflakes".

The Government had to accept that hosting the cup at Eden Park made it a national stadium and it "should not be a burden on the ordinary ratepayers of Auckland".

Prime Minister Helen Clark defended Mr Mallard's handling of the matter, saying he was excited by the concept of a waterfront stadium and "went at it full steam, as he always does".

A relieved Eden Park development committee chairman, Rob Fisher, said he was confident there would be goodwill on the part of the Government and councils and they would get the funding sorted out.

It was important now that everyone got behind Eden Park to transform the ground into a world-class stadium with 60,000 seats, which he believed was good value for money at $385 million.

North Shore Mayor George Wood continued to press for North Harbour as the No.1 choice but was silent on whether he would hit ratepayers to fund the estimated $226 million for increasing the number of seats from 25,000 to 60,000 for the cup.

Mr Mallard said the beauty of North Harbour was it was easily consentable and work could start as late as mid-2008 and be finished in time if things went wrong with Eden Park.

Act leader and Epsom MP Rodney Hide and Green Party sports spokesman Keith Locke were overjoyed at the decision to abandon the waterfront stadium plan.