|Auckland's stadium debate triggers deja vu in Brisbane
|Sunday November 19, 2006
By Dylan Cleaver
BRISBANE - Exactly one year ago, New Zealand won the right to host rugby's 2011 World Cup. The Eden Park Trust Board (EPTB) would have been as happy as anybody that day, safe in the knowledge that the final would be played on their hallowed turf... or so they thought.
Fast forward a year and they feel their best hope of convincing not only the public but the powers-that-be that the redevelopment of Eden Park remains the best option is to look northwest a few thousand kilometres to Brisbane - Suncorp Stadium, to be precise.
When discrediting the merits of a $385 million redevelopment of Eden Park, critics, particularly Finance Minister Michael Cullen, pointed to three factors: Location, location and location.
"We just wanted to say 'hang on, there are stadiums that co-exist with residential areas and there's one on our doorstep'," said EPTB chief executive John Alexander.
From location, there are three major issues: Residents, transport and supporting infrastructure.
Worldwide trends in the past 10 years have seen stadia built in industrial areas as a catalyst for regeneration. The suburban stadiums so common in English football are slowly being excised from the landscape.
Cullen recently indicated that was the way he expected Eden Park to go as well, saying a stadium in the heart of a neighbourhood had no long-term future.
All of which has been damaging to Eden Park's campaign to secure the rights to host the World Cup matches destined for Auckland.
By highlighting the success of Suncorp Stadium, formerly Lang Park, he hopes to redress that balance in a transparent manner.
Suncorp is regarded as arguably the best purpose-built rugby ground in the world. Although the sleek facade of Suncorp bears little resemblance to the hotchpotch that is Eden Park in its current guise, the two grounds share crucial similarities:
* They are partly surrounded by housing.
* The residents are well organised and are among the city's higher earners.
* They are both close to the CBD (although Suncorp is closer).
* The cost of the revamp and proposed revamp are similar.
* They are served by similar transport infrastructure.
While Suncorp stands as a resounding success now, the initial reaction when the upgrade was first touted was outrage from the residents.
HOK Sports architect Alistair Richardson, chiefly responsible for the re-design, said there were vicious community campaigns against it.
The concept also failed to receive Brisbane City Council support, which wanted another site upgraded.
The Queensland State Government overrode the council and set up the Major Sports Facility Authority (MSFA), which governs the state's most important stadiums.
MSFA had to contend with the Environmental Impact Study, which is effectively Queensland's equivalent of the Resource Management Act.
There were to be no concerts; minimal noise and light spill; flora and fauna had to be in keeping with the area; pedestrians could not circulate in some areas on match days; and there was a 1.5km 'no-parking' perimeter around the ground.
MSFA and stadium officials who met the Herald on Sunday but did not want to be quoted said the priority was to put in workable transport solutions to encourage patrons to take public transport to minimise the effect on neighbours. Using 16 to 20 dedicated train services, 150 to 170 buses and 150 charter coaches, they have now achieved more than they thought possible, with 80 per cent of patrons using public transport.
Eden Park's initial hope is to convince 45 per cent of patrons to use public transport through a similar upgrade of services.
"We would use a similar traffic management plan," Alexander said. "We're hoping that will stimulate greater use of event buses."
What the architects came up with for the 52,000-seat stadium is considered a design triumph. Suncorp has been so embraced by the community that when the State Government changed the legislation to allow three concerts a year - Robbie Williams is scheduled to play two shows next month - there was more resident support than objection.
Stadium management now say they average less than one resident complaint per game.
Eden Park still has issues with its residents. While a new design has significantly lowered the roof on the new stand that will take in the east, south and west sides of the ground, some residents will still be affected by shading. They will be offered mitigation packages that include under-floor heating and double-glazing. It might be enough to swing them.
Whether the concept of a stadium that blends and works with its community is enough to sway the Government - well, that remains a long shot.
"We've got the fight of our life on our hands," Alexander said. "Why should it [Eden Park] survive? For two reasons. One is that it makes sense and it has no risk attached to it. And it would be a shame and a bit ironic that one of the reasons they brought the World Cup back to New Zealand was because of its rugby traditions but at the same time they were closing down one of the best-known rugby grounds in the world."
* Dylan Cleaver was flown to Brisbane and accommodated by Eden Park as part of their push to host the final of the 2011 World Cup.