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Get on with Eden Park now
29 November 2006

Trevor Mallard is trying to put a brave face on Cabinet's decision to abandon plans for a national stadium on the Auckland waterfront.

His disappointment is only natural for a politician who experiences such a monumental legacy slip from his grasp but it is a victory for cost-effectiveness and common sense. The waterfront stadium idea was not visionary and should not be viewed as a wasted opportunity to do "something different". It should be judged for what is was: folly on a large scale. But while Mr Mallard regards the Eden Park upgrade decision as a "poor second option", he can take comfort that the ditched stadium has stirred feelings on the waterfront that can now be harnessed into something tangible. Pressure to open up the inner harbour for greater public access is gaining momentum and, if managed well, should provoke the ports company and councils into action.

But that is a matter for Aucklanders to debate. Eden Park's future, however, is of greater and more pressing interest to sports-mad New Zealanders. Of most concern is the cost. At the moment the optimum price of upgrading needed to stage the World Rugby Cup in 2011 is $385 million but final figures will not be available until June. Expect, then, for $385 million to be a conservative estimate.

Meanwhile, the Government is intent on calling Eden Park a regional facility as opposed to a "national stadium". The definition is crucial because it allows the Government to contribute less that the $175 million it had promised for the waterfront option. But really the argument is mostly convenient semantics. The Eden Park Trust Board will see its make-up change to reflect future stakeholders, which could include up to six government appointees.

There are several iconic sports facilities around the country, of which Eden Park is one. Whether any - given a large capital injection - could be a "national stadium" is irrelevant and adds nothing to the prestige of scheduled matches. What sports fans want is a facility that enables them unimpeded viewing of the action and easy access to amenities. Sports administrators want a facility that is of world-class standard so they can bid on equal terms for major events.

The most pressing issue now is to secure the $175 million shortfall. Mr Mallard is right to insist that the Auckland Regional Council has a "moral obligation" to contribute. Having rejected the waterfront option, it should now put its money where its mouth is. Mr Mallard, however, would be on more solid ground if he revealed how much the Government will set aside. Auckland ratepayers are understandably nervous about how much of the burden they will be expected to carry after being told the waterfront option wouldn't affect rates. Ultimately, upgrading Eden Park is the right and best decision. It is time for those who have promised its suitability and readiness for the World Rugby Cup to follow through.