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Cheap and temporary is all we need
Wednesday February 14, 2007
By Brian Rudman

From the moment Auckland's local politicians upset Sports Minister Trevor Mallard by rejecting his proposal for a grandiose $500-plus million waterfront stadium, it was inevitable.

We were destined to get as cheap a tart-up of Eden Park's facilities as one could get away with without incurring the wrath of the International Rugby Board.

And I, for one, say amen to that.

After all, until bats started going crazy in certain belfries, a modest upgrade of Eden Park facilities was all the rugby fraternity thought necessary to win the right to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

In May 2005, when NZ Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs announced the bid, he said Eden Park would be a suitable venue with the expenditure of only $20 million for temporary seating above the existing western stand. The cost, he added, would be recovered through ticket sales.

Now we have Mr Mallard admitting he will be submitting plans to the Cabinet for a temporary upgrade of Eden Park.

Unnecessarily defensive, he rejects the idea that temporary seating equates with shoddy, pointing out that 80 per cent of the seats in the proposed stadium for the 2012 London Olympics will be temporary.

He shouldn't be so prickly about the concept. Temporary stadiums are all the vogue. Sydney, Berlin, Chicago, they've all used, or plan to use, collapsible temporary seating for international sporting jamborees.

TV3 is reporting that the temporary seating proposals before the Government will cost between $50 million and $100 million, and came after a visit by an overseas expert.

I don't know why the imported consultant was necessary. In late November 2005 the Eden Park Trust Board produced two main options for upgrading the ground.

There was a $45 million option which included a temporary stand above the west stand - sound familiar? - and a $100 million plan which included replacing the ageing south and southwest stands.

After that, everything went haywire and the trust board ended up with final plans for a rebuild costing $385 million.

The one vital ingredient missing from the Mallard waterfront stadium plan and its Eden Park rival during their battle for supremacy was any clear idea of where the money was coming from. For the Mallard stadium, there was no clear idea how much was involved - estimates ranged from $500 million to more than $1 billion.

It always surprised me that the trust board continued with the expense of resource consent hearings late last year for its Rolls-Royce makeover when it seemed obvious that it was $225 million shy of the $385 million cost.

Especially when a sulky Mr Mallard made it plain after his waterfront Edsel had sunk that although Eden Park was the Government's reluctant second choice, it would be financed only as a regional stadium. The difference between this and the national stadium status proposed for the waterfront stadium was never spelt out. But the threat was clear. The Government would be much less generous if Auckland went for the regional stadium option.

It could have been so different. Instead of hatching a waterfront fantasy in the privacy of his own imagination, Mr Mallard could have come to Auckland, said the Government was prepared to underwrite a national stadium, and initiated a joint investigation into the best site.

All the obvious - and not so obvious - starters could then have been lined up and assessed. Mt Smart, Eden Park, North Harbour Stadium, Carlaw Park, Quay Park, even, for that matter, the waterfront.

Before the site debate, we could have nutted out what sort of stadium the region needed.

Instead, we appear to be ending up with a temporary solution costing $50 million to $100 million, to provide 13,000 extra seats for a few hours of footie.

On top of that, Auckland has missed out, hopefully only temporarily, on a grand, Government-funded monument that is both "national" and expensive