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New papers show what Mallard really thought about waterfront stadium
Wednesday February 07, 2007

Sports Minister Trevor Mallard scrawled "rubbish" across a letter from Ports of Auckland which said his cherished waterfront stadium for the 2011 Rugby World Cup could not be completed in time.

The letter is in documents released to NZPA today on the stadium decision.

They show the intensity of the behind-the-scenes debate which engulfed Mr Mallard and his cabinet colleagues late last year.

Mr Mallard passionately supported the waterfront option but Cabinet abandoned it in the face of opposition from Auckland councils, and Eden Park is being upgraded to host the final.

Ports of Auckland managing director Geoff Vazey wrote to Mr Mallard on November 3 saying advisers believed construction of a waterfront stadium would have to start in April 2007.

"The substitute facilities cannot be ready by then so the project is flawed," Mr Vazey wrote.

"It cannot be completed in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Separately, the transitional disruption to trade would be immense."

Mr Mallard scrawled "rubbish" between those paragraphs.

The papers also show Fletcher Building infrastructure division chief executive Mark Binns wrote to Mr Mallard on September 15, saying the waterfront option was unrealistic.

At the height of the stadium debate, Fletcher Building was touted as the likely constructer of the new stadium.

Mr Binns said Eden Park was not an optimum location but "delivery of a 60,000 seat stadium on the Auckland waterfront by 2011 is not realistically achievable".

He noted that in construction it was easy to promise a lot but not deliver.

"I just hope that in evaluating the viability of any alternative site the Government is taking advice from people who have had real experience, and responsibility for, the actual delivery of major complex projects."

Mr Mallard did end up seeking Fletcher's advice and later the firm changed its position and said both options were viable within a tight timeframe.

A few days after rejecting Mr Vazey's opinion on the timeframe, Mr Mallard wrote to Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard saying the waterfront option was viable.

North Harbour Stadium chief executive officer Brendon O'Connor chimed in saying his stadium was the best and could be upgraded for $226 million.

Eden Park development committee chairman Rob Fisher in September wrote to complain that the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) was looking at the waterfront option.

"It is a major distraction and somewhat demotivating for the team working hard to meet the commitment made by the Bid Team in Dublin, namely the redevelopment of Eden Park to a capacity of 60,000 with a new South Stand."

He was also concerned about how the parallel process would reach the media.

"On August 23 I met with the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on my knee and he told me all about the officials being in Auckland and the plans for alternative sites to Eden Park."

Serious concerns are raised in several papers about the viability of the waterfront option.

One prepared by Stimpson and Co for Ports of Auckland said the waterfront option would have a great impact on its car trade business.

It outlined several dire scenarios, including one which said it would cost $76 million to create a car storage area.

Another report commissioned by MED, by Mitchell Partnerships and Cowper Campbell, said the waterfront option would not get resource consent and a change to district plans would be needed.

The Eden Park redevelopment was expected to cost around $385m although final costings would not be available until around June.

A Cabinet paper, previously released, said the Eden Park Trust Board would provide $60m -- made up of $17.5m debt and $42.5m from non-public sector sources, for instance corporate box and membership sales.

The trust board expected central Government "and related sources" to provide $175m.

Auckland City Council was expected to assist and the trust board expected to get grants, $30m from Rugby New Zealand 2011 and $50m from the Lotteries Commission.