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All quiet on the stadium front
Thursday December 7, 2006
By Bernard Orsman

Auckland Regional and City Councils are taking time out from the stadium debate while the Government decides how to fund the $385 million upgrade of Eden Park or go for a cheaper option.

Government officials have until Wednesday to report on the funding, design and governance issues for Eden Park after the Cabinet torpedoed plans for a waterfront stadium.

This followed the frantic two-week deadline set by the Government last month for the Auckland regional and city councils to choose between the waterfront and Eden Park.

Auckland City voted 13-7 for the waterfront but broke ranks with the Government over the site. The ARC voted unanimously for Eden Park.

The two councils yesterday said that since the Cabinet opted for Eden Park on November 27 they had not heard boo from Ministry of Economic Development officers about funding a $225 million shortfall for Eden Park's planned $385 million upgrade.

Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard, who has lambasted his ARC counterpart Mike Lee for not wanting to put a cent into Eden Park, declined to comment yesterday when asked about the funding package.

A council spokeswoman said: "We are waiting for some signal from the Government to give us some kind of idea about whether they will be putting funding into any of the options [for Eden Park] or not at all."

The council has given conflicting signals about how much, if any, money it would put into Eden Park. The Eden Park Trust Board has asked for $75 million (plus $26 million for a concourse linking the park with Kingsland), the council has mooted $50 million and a "confidential" council paper last month suggested "no direct ratepayer contribution to the stadium".

Auckland City councillors are wary about a contribution towards Eden Park after this year's backlash to a 13.7 per cent average household rates rise. The message from ratepayers was the Government and Rugby Union signed up to the World Cup and should foot most of the bill.

Auckland Regional Council chief executive Peter Winder said he did not expect to be approached about funding until after Ministry of Economic Development officials had reported to the Cabinet by Wednesday.

"My reading is they are doing a piece of work that will go to Cabinet and we can expect some further discussions once Cabinet has received that advice," Mr Winder said.

Mr Lee said the ARC was willing to listen to funding ideas but reiterated its primary focus was on public transport and the cup should not be a burden on ratepayers.

Meanwhile, Bob Clarkson, the National MP for Tauranga, who built the city's 20,000-seat Baypark stadium, said the answer was not to build or upgrade a stadium.

Mr Clarkson said that in his opinion the solution was to renegotiate the deal with the International Rugby Board, which only wanted to pocket a $150 million tournament fee. To meet the fee from the existing 47,500-seat Eden Park, ticket prices could be raised by a third.

"The people who love rugby will pay to see their sport through ticket prices and the rest of New Zealand won't pay. Auckland ratepayers and New Zealand taxpayers will be happy. They won't have to fork out," Mr Clarkson said.

Last night Rugby New Zealand 2011 chairman Jock Hobbs said: "Our commitment in the bid to the IRB was for a world-class, 60,000-seat stadium to host the opening match and the final. It was a fundamental part of our successful bid."