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Brash frets about waterfront costs
Wednesday November 15, 2006
By Ruth Berry and Bernard Orsman

The Government appears to have enough political support in Wellington to push through a waterfront stadium - but political support from Auckland councils is far from certain.

Labour has tentative support from New Zealand First and United Future to pass enabling legislation for a 60,000-seat waterfront stadium for the 2011 World Rugby Cup but National has put a dampener on hopes for a broader consensus.

National leader Don Brash made it clear yesterday the waterfront plan would need to get over significant hurdles before the party would consider pledging its support for enabling legislation, even if the councils backed it.

Last night, Auckland City Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker dropped a bombshell by saying he was now leaning towards the option of upgrading Eden Park because of urban design concerns, including the "size and bulk" of a waterfront stadium and the impact on the neighbouring Britomart heritage development.

Dr Hucker had previously supported the Government's preferred site between Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves, with Eden Park as back-up. Several Labour members on the ruling City Vision-Labour city council team have also created uncertainty for the Government by asking for more work to be done on Carlaw Park for a stadium.

The Government has given Auckland city and regional councils until Friday week to agree on a preferred site or it will take the main venue for the cup to Jade Stadium in Christchurch.

At Parliament yesterday, the Greens and Act made a rare appearance together to condemn the concept as a blight on the waterfront and will hold a public meeting in Auckland on Sunday.

The Maori Party was also opposed to the waterfront on the basis there had been inadequate consultation with the board of Ngati Whatua ki Orakei.

United Future leader Peter Dunne, yesterday lobbied by Auckland local body leaders, toned down last week's vociferous criticism of the waterfront plan.

He assured them his party would back "whatever unified decision they made and would support enabling legislation".

New Zealand First took the same stance and has tentatively supported the waterfront project, giving the Government enough political support to pass enabling legislation.

Dr Brash said National would support enabling legislation for Eden Park, but there were still far too many unknown risks and unanswered questions to make a similar commitment to the waterfront plans.

"National's first priority is to ensure New Zealand has the capacity to host the Rugby World Cup in 2011, but the caucus considers it would be irresponsible to support 'blank cheque' legislation without major risks inherent in the project being eliminated."

National was not ruling out support, but Dr Brash said he had "some personal doubts" the party's concerns could be overcome. They included a lack of detailed costings around the Government's $500 million "guesstimate" which National feared was a deliberate underplaying of the true costs.

Mr Mallard urged political parties "to work constructively" on the issue.

Considerable time had been spent evaluating the options, which had involved regular consultation with the city and regional councils.

It had not been possible to conduct an evaluation process through the media or give daily updates until the Cabinet had the full facts itself and made a decision. All stakeholders were now being briefed and technical experts made available, he said.

"I'm confident that the issues that the National Party have raised can be satisfactorily addressed and on that basis I think that the National Party will support Auckland's decision as the Government intends to do."

However, the final costings for both the latest design for Eden Park and the waterfront option would not be known until about June next year when the design work for both projects was expected to be completed.

He stressed the waterfront option was explored after it became clear the Eden Park costings had risen from around $150 million when the cup bid was won, to about $320 million. That estimate has since risen to $385 million.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen reiterated his belief people were supporting Eden Park because they mistakenly thought it would not require taxpayers' and ratepayers' funding.

Under questioning in the House, he said while Jade Stadium in Christchurch remained a back-up, it was expected the Auckland councils would opt for Eden Park if they didn't back the waterfront proposal.

Asked by Act MP Rodney Hide if he was backing away from the proposal because it lacked public support, Dr Cullen said "No".

Earlier he said: "I'm not going to comment on unscientific polls. Sorry, it's just not a relevant consideration at this point. I mean do people understand Eden Park isn't paid for?"

Mr Hide said the stadium would be a "monstrous" blight on the waterfront, while Green MP Keith Locke said the Government should instead spend the cash on a quality public transport system.

Meanwhile, a petition against the waterfront stadium was launched yesterday by Susan Grimsdell and John Minson, whose harbour view from the 13th floor of the Scene Two apartment block would be affected.

The couple bought a 1 1/2-bedroom apartment for about $400,000 when they lost their view at another apartment building from the row of three Scene apartment towers along Beach Rd.

Susan Grimsdell said the couple were told there was a five-storey height limit. "Now they are just riding roughshod over all that and putting this monstrosity in front of us. It is just a nightmare."

The waterfront stadium is 37m high or about 12 storeys.