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Mallard back in town for stadium sales pitch
Thursday November 16, 2006
By Bernard Orsman and Paula Oliver

Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard rolls into town today with a travelling roadshow to sell his dream of a "national stadium" on the Auckland waterfront to local politicians who have the final say.

The Labour hardman will be on his best behaviour after slamming Aucklanders' "lack of imagination and vision" yesterday and accusing staff members of two companies working for Eden Park of running a "viral email" campaign against the waterfront option. He rubbished Eden Park as a "poor second option".

Later in the day, Mr Mallard was more reserved and said if Aucklanders were not ready for a waterfront stadium "then we will back them".

"If people come to that view that's democracy."

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Mr Mallard, Ministry of Economic Development officers and technical advisers will spend the day briefing the Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Council and answering questions about the options.

Auckland City is first up at 10am on the 15th floor of the Civic Building after staff security concerns over a meeting in the Auckland Town Hall.

Architect Marshall Cook has been invited to present plans for a stadium at Carlaw Park to appease councillors who wanted more work done on the site. The Government has dismissed this option as it would mean carving 3ha off the Domain, felling hundreds of mature trees and taking private land under the Public Works Act.

At 1.30pm, Mr Mallard's team will go up the road to meet the Auckland Regional Council and the boards of Auckland Regional Holdings and Ports of Auckland. The ports company, on whose land a waterfront stadium would be built, is owned by the ARC through its investment arm, Auckland Regional Holdings.

Mr Mallard has given the Auckland city and regional councils until Friday week to agree on their preference between the waterfront and Eden Park or Christchurch's Jade Stadium will become the main venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Auckland has responded as only Auckland can - by being bitterly divided over the issue, sideshows like Carlaw Park, widespread criticism and few leaders prepared to get in behind the Government's "strong preference" for Eden Park.

Business leaders, such as Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett, have sat on the fence.

The biggest cheerleader for the waterfront, Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard, said the stadium was more than just about the Rugby World Cup. It was a unique opportunity to create a multi-use, world-class facility to be enjoyed by future generations.

"The next 10 days are designed to allow the councils to make a final decision. Public opinion is important to the process, but we need to carefully balance other important considerations like urban design principles, economic development opportunities, transport, cost and the positive impact a stadium would have on revitalising the central city," Mr Hubbard said.

Mr Mallard will make it clear today that whatever option is chosen, the Government would not burden Auckland ratepayers.

A bed tax or an airport departure tax could be used to help fund either Eden Park or a waterfront stadium, and be extended for an extra year or two if construction costs were higher than expected.

Fletcher Building construction boss Mark Binns yesterday said the pricetags of $500 million for the waterfront and $385 million for Eden Park should be taken with a "grain of salt".

A potential cost blow-out for the waterfront stadium is worrying the National Party. Mr Mallard said what he was hearing from the building industry was that quantity surveyors were notoriously inaccurate in their estimates: "Sometimes you can get up to a 30 per cent difference."

During Parliament's general debate, National leader Don Brash said: "I don't find the idea of a huge inward-looking stadium blocking the views of one of the finest harbours in the world, and essentially lifeless for most of the time, attractive at all."

National has not ruled out backing the waterfront option, but has so far expressed a clear preference for Eden Park. In response to Mr Mallard's claim about a "viral email" campaign, an embarrassed Beca chief executive Richard Aitken admitted a staff member had sent an email referring to the stadium debate.

Mr Aitken said the email was the personal view of the staff member, was totally against company policy and "appropriate action has been taken".