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Eden Park plan jolts trust board
Wednesday February 14, 2007
By Bernard Orsman

Sports Minister Trevor Mallard says the Cabinet will look at combinations of temporary and permanent seating to enhance Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup - the strongest hint yet that a permanent upgrade is on the skids.

His comments come ahead of a planned trip next month to New Zealand by members of the International Rugby Board and its Rugby World Cup offshoot, including chairman Syd Millar and former England captain Bill Beaumont, to check out the country's readiness for the cup.

Mr Mallard made no mention of the grand plans to upgrade the historic sports ground heading into caucus yesterday, following a TV3 report that the Government favoured a cheaper option using temporary seats and a partial upgrade costing between $50 million and $100 million.

The Herald understands temporary seating will be part of the final mix for the cup. Just how many of the extra 13,000 seats needed to take Eden Park up to a 60,000-seat stadium under the terms of New Zealand's bid for the cup will be temporary, will be determined by a range of options going to Cabinet.

The news is a bombshell to the Eden Park Trust Board, which has gone unusually quiet about its plans for a $320 million or $385 million upgrade of the historic sports ground. One source said the $385 million price-tag had risen to $415 million.

After months of planning and design work, the trust board got resource consent last month to build new stands in place of the terraces and south stand, costing $320 million. It did not include consent for the "full" $385 million option that includes covered seating around the ground.

Mr Mallard told reporters that work by a group of international experts looking at temporary and permanent seating options would go to the Cabinet in the next two weeks. Whatever option was finally decided would have to be acceptable under a contractual arrangement with the IRB.

Asked if temporary seating would look shoddy, Mr Mallard said 80 per cent of the seating for the London 2012 Olympics would be temporary.

"We're not going to have planks and scaffolds and binoculars. You are going to have a high-quality stadium."

For a second day, the trust board refused to comment on "speculation" about Eden Park.

In a statement, chief executive John Alexander said the trust board was continuing to work with the Ministry of Economic Development on a Government review of its plan.

"We have been advised by the MED that the trust board will be consulted on any preferred design for Eden Park before definitive decisions are made, and until then we have no further comment to make."

The trust board has been very confident about the quality and robustness of its plans to transform Eden Park into a "world-class" stadium.

It has $160 million committed to the upgrade but faces a shortfall of $225 million to fund the full option.

The trust board does not believe the ground's capacity could be increased to 60,000 seats by adding 13,000 temporary seats. At one stage in the bidding process for the cup, it was suggested building a 45m-tall, 8000-capacity temporary stand at the rear of the west stand to give Eden Park 55,000 seats.

Alistair Richardson, a principal of the international sports stadium firm HOK Sport Architecture, told the Herald in December that it would be too unsafe to add 13,000 temporary seats to the west stand.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said a $50 million to $100 million temporary upgrade of Eden Park would be a lost opportunity in Auckland for a large piece of economic infrastructure that could underpin another Commonwealth Games bid and a range of other activities.

Eden Park Neighbours' Association president Mark Donnelly said the group supported temporary seating and believed there was an option to upgrade the park to 60,000 seats with temporary seats. He said temporary seating above the west stand would have the least impact on residents.