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Cullen makes sinking sounds
John Armstrong
Wednesday November 15, 2006

To listen to Michael Cullen yesterday was to listen to the sound of Auckland's waterfront stadium going down the gurgler.

Not that the Acting Prime Minister actually admitted that the odds were shifting back in Eden Park's favour. His statements simply spoke for themselves.

Perhaps the most telling came in Parliament when he was asked if the Government was still committed to Christchurch's Jade Stadium as a backup option should Aucklanders prove incapable of agreeing on the $500 million waterfront plan or an upgraded Eden Park.

Dr Cullen confirmed that was the case. But he then added that he anticipated that if the Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Council did not rally around the waterfront option "then presumably they will support the Eden Park stadium option".

The crucial word was "presumably". Auckland looks about as united as Iraq when it comes to building a national stadium on the city's wharves. But no one wants the city to lose the 2011 Rugby World Cup. That means all roads lead to Eden Park. Dr Cullen can see the logic.

His answer was a statement of the obvious, given the level of public opposition to the waterfront project. But it was also a concession, given the Government is going full throttle in favour of the waterfront.

The Government has yet to admit defeat. But it can see which way the wind is now blowing. Further evidence of that was Dr Cullen's rearguard action to buoy up the sinking waterfront proposal by issuing repeated warnings that the Eden Park Trust Board does not have detailed plans or final costings for its planned redevelopment.

However, his efforts to undermine the competing proposal were totally eclipsed by National announcing that its MPs were willing to back fast-track legislation for work at Eden Park only - not on the waterfront, unless the risks attached to that project, such as cost blow-outs and the constrained timetable for completion, could be eliminated.

National's stance is the most sensible one. It is showing it is more than willing to be constructive so Auckland is not left in the lurch.

It is also accurately reading public opinion. The danger now for Dr Cullen and Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard is that National's reflecting of public opinion ends up leading public opinion even further away from the waterfront option.

National's doubts can have only one impact: further reducing what little momentum remains in Auckland to turn Mr Mallard's dream into concrete reality.