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World-class Eden Park vital to Cup: rugby chief
Wednesday December 13, 2006
Bernard Orsman

Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs has made an impassioned plea for a world-class stadium at Eden Park amid speculation that a cheap upgrade is on the cards for the 2011 World Cup.

"To maximise the benefits of hosting the tournament, Rugby World Cup 2011 needs to be flawlessly delivered and we need to have a centre-stage, world-class, 60,000-seat stadium that all of New Zealand can be proud of," the former All Black captain said.

Mr Hobbs was speaking in Auckland yesterday at the resource consent hearing for a $320 million upgrade of the existing stadium - subsequently notched up by the Eden Park Trust Board to a "legacy masterplan" costing $385 million.

The trust board has $160 million lined up from its own coffers and grants and is hoping taxpayers and ratepayers will fund the $225 million shortfall.

Mr Hobbs said the cup, with an estimated television audience of four billion, was the third-largest global sporting event after the Olympics and the Soccer World Cup.

About 70,000 international visitors were expected to come to New Zealand for the cup and the event was forecast to generate $500 million of economic benefit to the country, including $260 million in Auckland.

"The Rugby World Cup in 2011 will put New Zealand in the global spotlight on a scale we have never seen before, with the legacy for tourism and other aspects of the economy being enormous," Mr Hobbs said. "It is not just an important event for rugby, it is an important event for New Zealand."

Providing a world-class, 60,000-seat stadium was a fundamental part of the successful bid for the hosting rights.

The body set up to deliver the event, Rugby New Zealand 2011, was pleased the Government had gone with Eden Park, subject to further analysis on funding, design and governance, he said.

Mr Hobbs, who is also chairman of Rugby New Zealand 2011, said redeveloping Eden Park as the "centre-stage" stadium would showcase New Zealand to a global audience, allow people to get to and from the ground with ease, provide improvements to the neighbours and leave a lasting legacy for Auckland and New Zealand.

Asked by Leigh McGregor, one of three independent commissioners hearing the consents application, what it would mean if the Government were to "hack a limb or two off Eden Park to save some money", Mr Hobbs replied: "I sincerely hope not."

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Hobbs said a lesser upgrade of Eden Park would affect how things looked to the television audience, people attending the event and neighbours.

"There are some benefits in spending less money, but if you spend less money you get a lot less."

There is growing speculation that the Government will opt for a cheaper upgrade of Eden Park once it receives a review of funding, design and governance matters.

In a monthly report to councillors dated December 7, Auckland City chief executive David Rankin said "discussions around a less costly temporary option to cater for the Rugby World Cup have been reignited".

Mr Rankin said the council was not involved in the Government work on Eden Park, "but we understand they have gone back to say, 'okay, what actual options are there as a basis for looking at what they do next and the costs of each one'."

City councillors are growing less keen by the day on making a contribution to Eden Park and Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee also has ruled out any contribution to the actual park upgrade, saying the ARC's role is limited to transport improvements.