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Government remains cagey on stadium - but waterfront favourite
Thursday November 9, 2006
By Bernard Orsman

The Government now says it could be the end of next week before a decision is made about a stadium for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but it is being cagey about involving Auckland in the process.

Finance Minister Dr Michael Cullen yesterday said it was important Auckland took some ownership of the stadium, which he strongly hinted from a Government viewpoint was running in favour of the waterfront option.

Dr Cullen confirmed that bed and airport taxes were being looked at to help fund a national stadium but indicated they would be levied by Auckland councils as an alternative funding mechanism to rates.

"I doubt there is going to be a strong desire to see increases in Auckland rates to pay for any local contributions to either Eden Park or a waterfront stadium. The question is what other sources of funding are available which are consistent with the nature of this project," Dr Cullen said.

It is understood Auckland City ratepayers could contribute about $50 million of the $500 million cost of a waterfront stadium, with the rest coming from central Government, regional taxes and sources like naming rights and corporate boxes.

The Eden Park Trust Board wants $75 million from Auckland City, $75 million from other councils in the region and a $75 million top-up on the $20 million already committed by the Government.

Dr Cullen said a waterfront stadium would be seen as a national stadium - and linked to Labour's "economic transformation" strategy - whereas upgrading Eden Park would simply be seen as an Auckland stadium. He dismissed the Carlaw Park option as affecting the Domain and North Harbour Stadium for transport reasons.

Dr Cullen said when all the factors were weighed up, the difference in cost between Eden Park and the waterfront was not that large on "best estimates". This contradicted a letter to political parties yesterday from the Eden Park Trust Board saying a 60,000-seat waterfront stadium could exceed $1 billion, according to its quantity surveyors, WT Partnership.

Dr Cullen's call for Auckland to come to a clear view and take some ownership for a stadium caused confusion in local circles. One suggestion is that the Government will make its preference known to Auckland councils early next week and give them a few days to respond.

Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard said he did not know what Dr Cullen meant by his comments. He told Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard last week that the council supported the waterfront option between Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves.

North Shore Mayor George Wood, who wrote to Mr Mallard yesterday plugging the merits of North Harbour Stadium, said he had no idea what Dr Cullen was on about: "No one has come to us."

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee last night said Mr Mallard was coming to see him early next week and was expecting a formal proposal. Mr Lee remained "conceptually quite excited" about a waterfront stadium but wanted more information from the Government and advice from Ports of Auckland, which is owned by the ARC thorough its investment arm Auckland Regional Holdings.

ARH chairwoman Judith Bassett said it would be "reckless" to support a waterfront stadium on the level of information available. There were serious risks from a stadium anywhere on ports land, she said.

Ports chief executive Geoff Vazey said of all the proposals on port land and coming up with substitute facilities to make a site available to build a stadium, "I've yet to see something I have confidence in can be done in time".

United Future leader Peter Dunne called for clear thinking on the issue, saying he had watched with growing alarm the confused, conflicting and often secretive debate over where a new or revamped stadium might go.

"Now a secret agenda has been sprung upon the nation and Auckland local bodies in particular to make a decision on an Auckland waterfront stadium within a week with no information as to guarantees of consentability, funding or construction," said Mr Dunne.