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Stadium decision - over to you now
Saturday November 11, 2006
By Bernard Orsman

Auckland has two weeks to choose between a stadium on the Auckland waterfront and upgrading Eden Park.

If the city can't make up its mind, Christchurch's Jade Stadium will become the main venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

That was the blunt message from Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard yesterday when he confirmed the Government's "strong preference" for a national stadium on the waterfront, a stone's throw from the bottom of Queen St.

Mr Mallard said the Government could not proceed without Auckland's backing and gave the Auckland City and regional councils until November 24 to agree on their preference.

"If you can't get unanimity in Auckland, you get Jade," Mr Mallard said.

After showing the first concept images of "Stadium New Zealand" on video with a haka soundtrack backing, Mr Mallard confirmed what had been reported in the Herald - a 37m stadium over the water between Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves, covered in a translucent material.

>>View stadium video

Bars and restaurants would be dotted outside the stadium on Captain Cook Wharf, which could become the city's main berth for cruise ships.

People would be able to walk around the stadium site, which is opposite the Britomart transport terminal and close to the ferry terminal.

Mr Mallard said a waterfront stadium would enable New Zealand to showcase itself to the world during the World Cup tournament, aid Auckland's desire to be a world-class city and attract major sporting, entertainment and spectator events.

It would be used for one-day cricket but not tests.

The cost was $497 million, including $120 million for a platform over the water to take the load of a 60,000-seat stadium.

After established sources of money - sponsorship, corporate boxes and $50 million from the Auckland City Council - were deducted, the Government would pay half the remaining cost and pass laws allowing Auckland councils to levy bed and airport taxes to pay the other half.

The Government says the financing plan was designed to ease the burden on ratepayers.

If Auckland opted for an upgrade to Eden Park, the council would still be able to impose bed and airport taxes but Mr Mallard said the Government would contribute less because it was a regional, not a national, stadium.

In an unusual step, the Government has given the contract to build the platform to Fletcher Building without calling tenders.

And it plans to ride roughshod over resource consent processes by passing legislation by April.

It says it will draw up a draft resource consent to go to a select committee for public hearings. Once passed into law, the consent could not be appealed.

Mr Mallard said the Government was working to a tight timetable to build a waterfront stadium but stadium designers, engineers, architects and construction experts agreed it could be done.

The biggest risk was reaching an agreement with Ports of Auckland.

"If we fail to deliver the World Cup, I will be fired," said Mr Mallard.

Eden Park Trust board chief executive John Alexander was delighted to be offered a lifeline, and said upgrading Eden Park from 47,500 to 60,000 seats was the cheapest, most practical and least risky option.

ARC chairman Mike Lee said the council needed more technical information before making a decision. There were also questions and outstanding issues regarding Ports of Auckland.

Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard said the council had already agreed in principle to the waterfront option, subject to more information. The council is expected to make its decision at a meeting on November 23.

Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs, who chairs the cup's organising committee Rugby New Zealand 2011, said the waterfront stadium was "bold, innovative and exciting".

"We [Rugby NZ 2011] support it, but our support is subject to doing further work to be satisfied that the stadium can be built in time," he said.

Bryan Pearson, chief executive of the company which manages Jade Stadium, has said that if things did not go to plan Jade Stadium was happy to work with the Government.

Government officials believe the $80 million job of upgrading Jade to the 60,000 seats required for the main cup venue could start as late as July 2008.

The timeline

* November 24: Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council to express a preference to the Government.

* May 2007: Funding, resource consents and agreement with Ports of Auckland for waterfront stadium.

* May 2007: Work starts on building platform for Stadium NZ.

* September 2007: Construction starts for main stadium at Eden Park OR

* December 2007: Construction starts for waterfront stadium.