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World Cup leaves local councils squirming
Wednesday February 21, 2007
By Bernard Orsman
Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard has a scrap on his hands to prise a large cheque from Auckland towards a Government-imposed facelift for Eden Park costing between $175 million and $190 million.

Local politicians have given a lukewarm response to calls from Mr Mallard for Auckland to contribute to the cost of providing temporary seating and building a new south stand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee yesterday reiterated the strong view that regional ratepayers should not put a cent into Eden Park, saying the ARC was focused on improving transport facilities such as the electrification of rail.

Auckland City councillors made it clear any contribution would be modest.

The council has $100 million set aside for international facilities such as Eden Park and a convention centre, and a further $50 million for transport projects related to the cup.

Mr Mallard yesterday appeared to let other councils off the hook by saying a cheque from the ARC would cover regional benefits. He said Auckland City should contribute because it had the most to gain from an improved Eden Park in its own backyard.

North Shore, Manukau and Waitakere councils have shown no interest in helping to pay for Eden Park. Last year, the North Shore City Council took on $31 million of debts at North Harbour Stadium.

Councillor Richard Northey, who chairs Auckland City's Rugby World Cup working party, said a $5 million council grant towards the $26 million upgrade of the ASB Showgrounds at Greenlane was the kind of precedent used to determine funding for Eden Park.

Mr Northey said earlier suggestions of a $50 million council contribution were based on a $500 million stadium development and "I'm pretty sure a council contribution for a project of about $180 million would be less than that".

Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker said the council would make a "reasonable contribution but given the reduction in the size of the project that commitment will be lower than originally anticipated".

Action Hobson's two councillors, Richard Simpson and Christine Caughey, plan to vote against putting ratepayers' money into Eden Park.

Mr Simpson said what was proposed for Eden Park was a cop-out and would do nothing to make Auckland a great city for 2011.

Citizens & Ratepayers Now leader Scott Milne took a proposal to his caucus yesterday to put $35 million into Eden Park so long as the ARC put up $35 million.

However, the centre-right ticket of six councillors rejected the idea in favour of the Government and Rugby Union making a substantial contribution and the council holding off until it knew what was on the table from the ARC and other councils.

Councillors agreed on the need for more detail and accurate costings on the Eden Park proposal and other aspects for the cup, such as plans for a $26 million pedestrian walkway linking the sports ground with Kingsland. The Eden Park Trust Board is also running a rule over the costings.

"We are starting afresh from a zero base," said council finance chairman Vern Walsh.

Mr Mallard said the price tag on Eden Park was "very theoretical" until final design work, quantity surveying costs and tenders had been let.

The new south stand has been costed at $123 million with the balance to build 30,000 temporary seats for the cup, based on advice from a Swiss temporary seating company, Nussli International.

Mr Mallard has indicated the Government wants to minimise the cost to taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers as a funding package came together over the next two-to-three months.

He said the Government contribution would depend on final costings and discussions with councils, funding bodies like the Lotteries Commission and ASB Trusts and the sale of post-tournament naming rights, corporate boxes and corporate sponsorship for the new south stand.

"It could be this is such a popular venture with people the (Government) contribution might only need to be a smaller one," Mr Mallard told National Radio.

The only money on the table so far is $20 million from the Government and $10 million from the Rugby Union, committed at the time of the bid to the International Rugby Board.

The National Party's sport and recreation spokesman, Murray McCully, said the Government should make a substantial contribution to Eden Park but it was only fair Auckland made a contribution.

He noted the price tag was nearly as much as a $225 million permanent upgrade of North Harbour Stadium.