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Extra time called for Eden Park revamp
Thursday December 14, 2006
Mathew Dearnaley

The Government has called extra time on a review of options for scrubbing up Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup - including temporary seating - but says this will not affect redevelopment deadlines.

Although the Ministry of Economic Development was to have completed the task by yesterday, Sport Minister Trevor Mallard said a "technically challenging" evaluation of all options would not now be finished until late next month.

"I am advised this will not affect redevelopment timelines," he said.

"The Government is committed to providing a stadium fit for hosting the Rugby World Cup final in 2011 and ensuring the tournament showcases New Zealand and Auckland to the world."

But despite that assurance, he did little to allay fears of NZ Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs and others that a cheap upgrade of Eden Park is on the cards.

A progress report by Mr Mallard to the Cabinet policy committee yesterday said the review of Eden Park Trust Board redevelopment proposals costing $320 million and $385 million respectively had been put back because of delays in gaining access to key information and documents.

He said that although a meeting was held with Eden Park's advisers on December 1, it took officials until eight days ago to round up the required documents.

But the Cabinet committee has also accepted a need for more time to examine prospects for using temporary facilities to provide the extra 12,000 seats needed to turn Eden Park into a 60,000-seat stadium.

"This is so Cabinet has the fullest picture possible of all the options available and the resulting funding and governance ramifications," Mr Mallard said.

His report to the Cabinet committee noted, however, that Eden Park's configuration did not lend itself easily to using temporary seating to gain the required extra capacity.

"Temporary seating facilities of the scale required are a challenging engineering and design exercise," he said.

The minister said stadium architectural expertise was critical to the evaluation task and a London-based principal of HOK Sport Architecture had been hired to review all design options, including Eden Park's ability to provide temporary seating.

HOK Sport designed Sydney's Telstra Stadium and Westpac Stadium in Wellington, and has the contract for the 2012 London Olympics stadium.

Mr Mallard's report said officials had managed to establish the only commitment made by New Zealand to the International Rugby Board in its successful bid to host the world cup was to provide a 60,000-seat stadium with better facilities for players, officials and VIPs.

But he noted the bid presentation included an image of Eden Park with a new south stand.

That $160 million redevelopment option would have provided 24,500 seats but only by increasing the stand's height substantially and causing significant shading on houses.

It evolved into "legacy" options costing $320 million and then $385 million to reduce the impact on neighbours.

Eden Park development committee chairman Rob Fisher said last night he was not surprised by the delay in Wellington as it had taken his organisation nine months of consultations and design to develop its options and there was a lot of material for officials to work through.

The committee would press on with a resource consent hearing due to wrap up next week in Auckland into the $320 million proposal and would continue with essential design work "to ensure no time is lost".

Mr Hobbs said the rugby union was disappointed with the delay but was continuing to work with all parties to ensure commitments and obligations made to the IRB were honoured.

That comment last night followed his evidence on Tuesday to the resource hearing that he hoped the Government would not compromise the need for a "centre-stage, world-class, 60,000-seat stadium that all of New Zealand can be proud of".

Auckland City Council member Christine Caughey said she hoped the delay would give backers of developing a stadium at Carlaw Park a better chance to convince the Government of its advantages, particularly given the "antipathy" felt towards Eden Park by many of its neighbours.