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Visionary decision will arrest decline
Fran O'Sullivan
Saturday November 18, 2006

How many parts of YES don't you understand, was my instinctive response when Auckland's well-paid spinmeisters started the knocking campaign to blast Trevor Mallard's brand-new national stadium out of the water even before the first pile was sunk.

You're all making enough blood money to buy business class tickets to go to Europe for the World Cup (now that was a stunning story), or visit the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which has transformed one of Spain's dark industrial towns into a premier tourist destination - an in place for international travellers.

And - bringing the debate back to the local - to get prized invitations to corporate boxes at Eden Park, rather than sit with the masses in the open spaces and watch the too-often thinly attended matches when the Blues play during those dark winter evenings.

Instead of organising junkets for journalists to go and take a look across the ditch at the type of stadiums your clients favour, why not open eyes by taking those journalists to have a look at what can happen in a very short time in cities where visionary leaders have invested in stunning public buildings and cityscapes?

And transformed governance structures so that internecine wars, like those that have defeated progress in Auckland for far too long, are a thing of the past and all the "leaders" are on the same page when it comes to making the courageous decisions that are needed if we are to arrest economic decline in New Zealand's most important city.

Unfortunately, that's not where the PR commissions are coming from. Mallard cut a rather lonely figure this week as he tried to combat all the negative stories and allegations that had been planted by those working for the rival Eden Park project.

Of course there is some substance to the negative claims. But many are risible, and there's nothing I've seen so far that could not be overcome with a bit of imagination, flexibility and above all a committed focus on getting the job done.

Mallard should - and does, because I've had him on about it - accept blame for the haphazard way in which his pet project was thrust on Auckland.

The Rugby World Cup Minister, who is also Economic Development Minister, failed to build a constituency among enough of Auckland's go-getters before going public with his grand plan. So the rival Dawn Chorus took a time to wake up to what's going on.

So Auckland looked the gift horse in the mouth, bitched about the arrogance of the Government making a decision for Auckland, and paid too much attention to the experiences of past failures, like the Aotea Centre, instead of looking to what else might be on offer if Auckland grabs the chance to host a national stadium that will inevitably catalyse much-needed development on the CBD waterfront and accelerate other projects which languish on drawing boards.

What is surprising is that Mallard's political opponents have done their volte-face and bought into the nay-saying arguments.

Just days ago National's Murray McCully was saying his party would support the project with provisos but it certainly was not a deal-breaker. Now National's leader Don Brash has turned into the party pooper.

I wouldn't be so concerned about Brash's reservations over the stadium's costings and deliverability in time for Rugby World Cup 2011 if I was convinced there was not an ulterior political motive at work in spawning this week's negativity as far as some of his colleagues are concerned.

My soundings disclose that some of Brash's colleagues want to use the stadium controversy to cause the Government political embarrassment. Defeat the project and give Helen Clark another bloody nose, is how one National MP described the tactics.

Some other Auckland-based National MPs would rather champion the project but don't want to embarrass Don in case it is read the wrong way.

Well, unless disgraced MP Taito Phillip Field can be forced out of Parliament altogether and National wins the resultant Mangere by-election, National is stuck with its opposition role.

Will National continue to play permanent campaign versus Clark's permanent reign or oppose visionary moves just because someone else came up with the good idea first?