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National stadium on waterfront could breath new life into Auckland
Matt McCarten
Sunday November 19, 2006

While it isn't good politics for Trevor Mallard to berate us in Auckland for prevaricating over the stadium, I can understand his exasperation. It's clear that, at this stage, the majority of Aucklanders are instinctively opposed to a waterfront events arena. But, from where he sits, we are being offered a world class stadium at no cost to Auckland ratepayers and we still aren't happy. His empty threat about taking it to Jade Stadium in Christchurch was silly and will only make his job harder.

I can appreciate some of the technical challenges of putting the stadium on the wharf, but I think a lot of the opposition is just the usual small-mindedness and opposition to change we seem to have whenever something big and new is proposed. When the Sky Tower was first mooted there was a similar outbreak of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Now it's hard to imagine the Auckland skyline without it. Remember the Aotea Square and Centre? Even a practical project such as the Britomart train station became a political football for years. I can't think of one visionary work proposed in Auckland that didn't build up a chorus of resistance. It seems that this is another oppositional campaign along the same lines. It surprises me that Aucklanders pride ourselves as innovators but seem to get nervous every time a major public work is proposed.

I really think we are looking a gift horse in the mouth. Of course, there are many questions to be answered and problems to be resolved. I don't think for a minute that it's going to cost $500 million as claimed. At the same time, I don't think the renovations for Eden Park would cost $300m either. My experience has been that whenever these sorts of projects are promoted, the proponents always undersell the cost and oversell the benefits. Therefore, I'm assuming that taxpayers aren't going to get any change out of a billion dollars for Mallard's stadium. But it's still worth giving it tacit support. I would have thought our region's leaders would see Mallard's proposal as an opportunity for leverage.

Mallard and the government have very little choice but to give Auckland a national stadium. They are in too deep to pull out now. Their mana is on the line. Mallard and Helen Clark promised the International Rugby Board a world-class venue if they gave us the rights to hold the Rugby World Cup. Despite Mallard's huffing and puffing, he knows he hasn't got any other choice and we should see how we can make his offer work for us.

I accept the arguments over the commercial needs of the Ports of Auckland. But I'm sure a way around these concerns can be worked through. In recent years the Auckland and Tauranga port companies have become closer and closer. Talks of merging have been on the cards recently. Some of Auckland's cargo already goes through Tauranga anyway and more non-urgent cargo could be diverted.

The point that some people are missing is that a stadium in the centre of our region will open up downtown Auckland to tens of thousands more Aucklanders. Come on, be honest - how many of you have actually been down to the wharf? If we can use Mallard's offer to improve Auckland's transport system into the Britomart transport centre and throw in a few more thousand carparks, it can only bring more people into the centre.

Our problem with Auckland is that it's too spread out - a series of shopping malls without a viable centre. Go down Queen St at night and it's an empty hole.

We need to make downtown Auckland and Queen St the real people's centre of our region.

Of course, there are many problems for the stadium. But I think that Mallard's vision is inspirational and Auckland's job is to work with him to make it happen and ensure it works for us. After all, if he's willing to pay then why would we not agree? I don't think for a minute that he wants it to go to Christchurch. But if some of the current short-sightedness continues he may have no choice.

Eden Stadium is certainly an option but it's hardly going to have the impact that something down on the waterfront will have. I think the flow-on effects of bringing more Aucklanders into the city will make Auckland hum.

The fractiousness of our leaders over this project shows, once again, why we must bite the bullet on regional governance. Our local politicians by definition see the stadium from the point of their particular roles rather than the greater good.

The sooner we move to one city, the better. Auckland will never move ahead until we do. Could you imagine our local elected leaders agreeing to any stadium on their own if Mallard hadn't intervened and offered to pay for a new one?

This is a time for visionary leadership and I'm not sure that the current governance structure in our region allows us to speak with one voice in the interests of Auckland. All this project has shown us is how we continue to be divided over our priorities. If we gave into fear of undertaking big projects then we wouldn't have Aotea, Britomart or the Sky Tower. If we pass this project as too difficult and go for safety then Auckland will be the poorer for it.