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Santa Helen's $500m present should remain under wraps
Brian Rudman
Wednesday November 8, 2006

Where's super nanny and her time-out stool when we need her? When it comes to the proposed stadium, we all need to calm down. Starting at the top.

It seems like only yesterday that Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard was happily leaping for joy - and the Herald photographer - to illustrate his support for a renovated Eden Park as the 2011 Rugby World Cup venue.

Now he's head-over-heels in favour of the Government's waterfront stadium option. Talk about snap, crackle and hop. Pour a cup of the latest good idea over him and up he pops.

Thankfully, Ports of Auckland chief executive Geoff Vazey has finally had a gutsful and yesterday sprayed cold water over the port option.

Hopefully this will damp down the growing pro-waterfront hysteria, at least until the Government produces a proposal on paper that we can intelligently discuss.

Until now, the port company and its owners, the Auckland Regional Council, have been biting their tongues over the Government's not-so-secret plans for a waterfront stadium. They've raised objections in backroom discussions, but have not wanted to enter into a public slanging match with the Wellington gift-horse.

But following yesterday's full-page Herald advertisement by the Heart of the City lobby group, Mr Vazey said: "I couldn't allow our customers to be confused any longer."

The Heart of the City ad claimed as "FACT" that "Bledisloe wharf is consentable, buildable and fundable. It is the best location for the 2011 Rugby World Cup stadium."

None of which is necessarily true. Mr Vazey says if the Government had approached him "a couple of years earlier, it may well have been do-able". But it's left its run too late. Before the port company would be willing to hand over land either on the Bledisloe Wharf container facility or on the Marsden and Captain Cook finger wharves, it would want replacement facilities up and running. This would mean first, the time-consuming process of gaining resource consents for new reclamation to the north of Bledisloe, and then building the facility. An alternative would be to fast-track long-term plans to further expand Fergusson Wharf, for which consents are in place.

The current reclamation of 5.5 ha to the east of Fergusson has taken more than two years.

Reclaiming 7ha in the deeper water north of Bledisloe, to replace land taken for a stadium, would take longer. It would also require costly bought-in fill. Building over the finger wharves would require replacement berths, "and to build a berth anywhere takes a long time".

Mr Vazey said the Government's various options are innovative on an abstract basis but "there's none that I've seen so far that has satisfactorily convinced us that substitute facilities can be built in time".

Asked what would happen if the Government tried to take the land, he said: "No one's threatening to do anything, but obviously if Ports of Auckland don't want to do it, that poses a challenge. It's the same as if someone wants to appropriate your house and land, you should have some rights under law, and we would have also. I hope it doesn't come to that."

He said that under the Port Company Act 1988, he and his directors could not do anything that worsened the commercial well-being of the port. "With $5 billion a year of trade going through, we just can't push that aside for a game of footie."

And that, surely, is the point. The debate over a venue for one tournament has become unhinged. Talk about promising circuses to distract us from the mundane.

Are we Aucklanders so shallow we'll drool at a $500-plus million trinket being dangled before us, while forgetting our paramour is crying too poor to pay the $300-$400 million required for an electric train network, and trying to bully us into paying tolls to extend our neglected highways?

Santa Helen and her little helpers are now milking the process for as much gratitude as they can garner.

Oh for a local leader willing to stand up and say, if there's Government money going spare then let us decide what we spend it on.

It's also a shame that the ghastly environmental impact any building of this size would have on the waterfront is not being considered.