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Good ideas for city are hard to realise
Joel Cayford

Thursday September 21, 2006

The idea of putting a stadium on Auckland's waterfront is not new. Wellington's Westpac Stadium was an obvious urban planning example to copy, and letters to this paper have sometimes suggested it. What is different today, is that Government ministers are behind the idea.

Unfortunately it is one thing to have a good idea in Auckland, but another to make it happen.

The Northern Busway was a good idea first thought of in the 1970s, but only now being built. Sir Dove-Myer Robinson's train idea was around for half a century and only now looks on track for construction -fingers crossed.

Recently I went to Perth to understand how that city managed its redevelopment and economic transformation - despite being subject to the governance of several councils, Western State government, and Perth Transit.

Throughout the visit I heard a recurring comment from planning consultants - most of whom had experience working here. They reckoned Auckland was great at ideas and strategies, but hopeless at implementation.

I was shown three urban regeneration projects. One was the Subiaco mixed use project with its Aussie rules stadium designed around a station on the newly electrified commuter rail network.

Associated medium density housing developments there are of a far higher standard than is typical for Auckland. Streetscape and public spaces are superbly designed and popular. Locals love it.

This project was achieved through collaboration and co-operation between relevant entities, through Master Planning for implementation, and through the establishment of a tailor-made agency employing a few highly experienced professionals.

Auckland's city councils have demonstrated they are capable of carrying out major projects that lie totally within their jurisdictions - such as North Shore's stadium, Manukau City's TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, and Auckland City's Vector convention centre. But different challenges arise with larger projects requiring co-operation between entities used to being their own masters.

Three spring to mind:

* Transit NZ's struggle to push State Highway 20 across a new bridge at Mangere and through Avondale in the teeth of residential concerns and through the treacle of two city councils and the regional council.

* The multiparty tangle around the railway station at Newmarket and adjacent private development.

* The intractability of parties responsible for Panmure regeneration around an upgraded railway station.

The Government's solitary approach to building a waterfront stadium risks running the same gauntlet. The land at issue is owned by Ports of Auckland, which is owned by Auckland Regional Holdings, which is owned by Auckland Regional Council, which has no public mandate to fund any rugby stadium. While Auckland City Council holds the key to most consenting and planning issues.

The Northern Busway project is the one unsung exception in Auckland to this apparent muddle. Without fanfare, this multiparty, half-billion dollar project actually got started and is accelerating to completion. It has attracted attention in the media because of what is being delivered, not because of disagreements between the stakeholders who are: Transit NZ, North Shore City Council, Auckland Regional Council, Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA), and Auckland City Council.

These parties agreed to co-operate and collaborate through signing a detailed memorandum of understanding. For five years the common goal was to deliver a high-capacity bus service connecting Britomart into a rebuilt Fanshawe St, across the fifth lane of the Harbour Bridge, within State Highway 1's designation and through a new interchange at Esmonde Rd, right through North Shore City, interconnecting with most arterial roads, and feeding commuters from busway stations and park and ride facilities.

This project is a model of multi-party project implementation. No single entity had all the power. It is a shared project. It did not require wholesale reform of Auckland local government to deliver.

Which brings me back to the idea of a waterfront stadium. Feasibility studies by government have found the port company needs Bledisloe Wharf for operations and that slinging a stadium between Captain Cook and Queens Wharves could be very costly. Eden Park might look good again.

But wait. What about the western reclamation? The Tank Farm? Parts of it are almost ready to be zoned high enough for a stadium. Architects advise me a big stadium would fit nicely in the block bounded by Jellicoe, Pakenham, Halsey and Daldy Sts.

Right next to a new park could be restaurants, and an attractive walk across a new bridge to Britomart public transport. It would be an active box with hotel, apartment, office and retail activities fronting the streets, surrounding the stadium tucked in behind, and contributing to the costs of the whole building envelope.

Several stakeholders are involved. It will require co-operation and collaboration to deliver a stadium in time.

If the Government is serious about this stadium project, then it can learn from the Busway project which it funded, and quickly get all parties round a table signed up to a common goal.

It's not supercity reform that Auckland needs, it's the recognition there are ways of working together.